thumb purchase-order-basicsThe benefits of automating orders, invoices, and ASNs between your company and its customers are well known. Integrated documents are faster, less prone to error, and improve workflow among your people and systems. At this point, it would be rare to find a major retailer or manufacturer who isn’t using electronic documents to run their businesses. Not so rare, though, are small and medium sized businesses (SMB) still pushing paper. It’s about time for SMBs to make their move, isn’t it?

A few years back, automating electronic documents for a ‘newbie’ was a long and expensive proposition. You needed to buy equipment and software, plus you had to train an employee (or hire one) to establish and maintain connections. That was just to get up and running. Integrating documents into and out of your existing systems, ERP, WMS, CRM, and so on, was something with which the IT staff had to be involved. Then, once up and running, somebody had to monitor the operation and handle exceptions. You know what? Those days are over. Options abound, mostly due to the growth and proven effectiveness of cloud-based technology.

When you look at it, the return on investment in the ‘old days’ maybe wasn't there. You may have had a major partner, a hub, try to force the issue, but you’d been successful in leveraging your relationship to postpone your deadlines time after time. However, the clock was ticking and eventually your time will expire.

Service providers have been happy all along to help out when you’ve been forced into an electronic relationship. EDI ‘portal’ providers would convert documents to web pages. For example, your big customer would create an EDI purchase order in his system and send it electronically to your service provider, who would then display it on a web page that you’d use to key into your system. You’d also then be able to key information into the web page to create an invoice to return to your customer after the order ships. That’s a nice interim step that can, at a minimum, comply with electronic process requirements. It’s not a perfect solution by any means, though, as it still requires manual processing on your end and may be costly on a per-transaction basis.

Portals were a good start and may still be preferred by some SMBs, but the good news is that your options have proliferated. The ‘cloud’ has opened the door for better alternatives. Service providers can not only provide the equipment and software that will enable you to comply with your partners’ requirements, but can also develop the integrations into and out of your systems that’ll allow you to squeeze the most benefit from the project. Ongoing support can also be provided. VAN (value added network) costs are avoided since connections are made directly with partners, and technical challenges like data security and backups are addressed. The initial outlay is reasonable and ongoing costs are ‘pay as you go’. The returns associated with automating the process will still be there, but the Investment portion of the ROI calculation can go way down, making an integration project much more attractive.

So, you understand the benefits, but how do you take the next step to determine if integrated transactions are for you? One easy way is to use a search engine for ‘EDI service providers’ to see who offers the services and to get a feel for the process. Why wait- it couldn’t be easier!

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