The standardized format of EDI documents has been a boon to both retailers and suppliers, providing common grounds for communications and efficiency. Retailers are, in many ways, in the driver’s seat when it comes to EDI – you tell the suppliers what you want and how you want it, and they fall in line.
That’s the theory, at least. But if you’re in charge of EDI standardization and compliance, you know there’s a lot more to it.
Compliance with the X12 standardized format is crucial to getting the most of your supply chain, but while EDI transactions are standardized, other differences may complicate matters.
Business specifics typically decide the definition of incoming and outgoing documents for each retailer. Trading partners monitor document design via published EDI implementation guidelines; these can be easily followed upon receipt of inbound transactions and the subsequent creation of outbound transactions.
The relationship between retailers and suppliers can be especially confusing at the beginning of a trading partnership. Heated debates often ensue when documents are tested and validated; even after a document is validated, modifications of layout specifics by the retailer (usually made because of business changes) can exacerbate tensions. While the retailer is adapting to its business environment, the supplier must adapt to the retailer – and complying under time constraints can be difficult.
When tensions arise because of EDI changes, it’s crucial for retailers to keep in mind that EDI compliance is not an end in itself, but is a means to an end. An efficient and profitable supply chain is the goal. For this reason, it’s up to the retailer to discuss changes with suppliers, and to help suppliers comply – before deadlines are instituted.
This often isn’t easy. Emailing updated guidelines to suppliers is, in theory, a simple solution. But experienced retailers know that in practice it’s not so clean. Just having the correct email address and other contact information for the person who’s responsible for making the supplier’s EDI updates can be a challenge. Retailers are usually most familiar with the supplier’s sales and product development workers, not the EDI technicians. And even when contact information is solid, job responsibilities often change – meaning you may know how to reach last year’s EDI point man, but not the person in charge now.
Fortunately, there are solutions to these problems. Some can be implemented by the retailer internally. Others, like subscribing to services like RVCF’s Compliance Clearinghouse, which consolidates guidelines, or hiring a managed EDI service provider, are proven methods to ensure that EDI changes don’t put a crimp in the supply chain.