EDI is, by just about any definition, a “mature” information technology. It has a long history, with origins in the planning in the Berlin Airlift, and was used in civilian businesses since as early as 1971, when London’s Heathrow airport started to use it for cargo management.
Most major sets of EDI standards, encompassing different industries (automobile manufacturing, health care, etc.) date back to the 1980s. Because EDI is so well-established, it’s not uncommon for an IT department, tasked to implement and, perhaps more important, maintain a company’s EDI system, to mistakenly believe that the job is almost completely about installing software, maintaining the internal network, and troubleshooting technical issues regarding data exchange with partners.
Because those tasks are, in fact, always time-consuming and often urgent, it’s up company leaders, including the CIO (or the company’s de facto equivalent), to make sure that the bigger picture is understood. And this bigger picture is that EDI is in service to the company’s business, and more specifically, one-to-one partnerships. Figuring out the IT department’s role and responsibilities for building and cultivating business relationships can be daunting, especially because working with many companies and individuals can be much more difficult to manage than code and data.
The first step toward developing interpersonal, business-to-business IT connections may be simply to acknowledge their importance. It’s easy to forget that a partnership implies a close relationship, yet one of the clear benefits of EDI is that it enables both buyers and suppliers to automate the “nuts and bolts” of their business communication. Ideally, this saves time and money for both partners, which means that there is more time to discuss how to automate even more processes, to further improve processes that are already running well, and to nip existing problems in the bud.
Sometimes technical jargon can blur meaning, even when the jargon is very familiar. Electronic Data Interchange is just one part of company-to-company communication. And both buyers and suppliers can benefit from using other forms of communication, too. When there’s a problem, simply picking up the phone and calling your business partner may result in a solution. And even if it doesn’t, it’s almost certain to improving understanding, both on a personal and business level. And that’s what a good partnership is all about.