There are so many little secrets. Frankly, I think there are things the Providers don’t know that only their VAN knows.
- VANs do not share routing tables, there is absolutely no concept of directory services between VANs. Each VAN does maintain its own routing tables, but there is no way to synch or look up against another VAN (nothing like DNS for EDI). All routes are manually confirmed by e-mail between network operations personnel on both ends.
- There is no functional difference between an EDI Service Provider and a VAN. The only distinction that could be made is that Service Providers use a VAN mailbox to route to other VANs, while VANs utilize their own direct interconnects. Otherwise, no difference other than the product offerings and specialties that each emphasizes.
- AS2 is a lot of work once you get a lot of trading partners on it. The protocol is excellent, the ability to manage problems and certificates increases exponentially as you get past a certain number of trading partners. For each company and software package it is different, but at some point, it becomes a beast with many sleepless nights.
I went through many of the WebSites for both VANs and EDI Service Providers. No I did not draw a line because they do the same thing for the customer. They all offer such things as
“unparalleled set of feature-rich services”, faster, more connections. As always, no clearcut price list or real explanation of what “value added services” are except “motherhood and apple pie” stories like file tracking and security. Not much different than 20+ years ago when I was involved with the industry. Yes! The Service Providers have added another dimension with AS2.
So what do we expect from either a VAN or EDI Service Provider?
- Multi-Tenant Mailboxing (for End-Users or Service Providers)
- Data Validation
- Mapping and Translation (through Software, Web Forms, Service or Third-Party)
- Standard EDI Document Routing
- Interconnects to other VANs via peering agreements
Yes, some things are different but it boils down to the automated exchange of commercial data using EDI between business partners.
Yes, many think most EDI VAN providers are using old business models, resulting in higher prices and less value in today’s tougher economic climate. Almost impossible to find a definitive list of who is a VAN and who is an EDI Service Provider. So this remains the biggest mystery. It is up to the users to select based on price and customer satisfaction.