Planning a B2B or EDI integration is one of the most important systems to help your business. The better you research options, and plan, the more value your company will get from the EDI, and data automation.
Kiichiro Toyoda, founder of Toyota Motors, strongly believed in a philosophy where “ideal conditions for making things are created when machines, facilities, and people work together to add value without generating any waste.”
This is as true for subscription-based integration services as it is for robotic automotive lines.
Here are a few questions to cover for first-time or repeated EDI/B2B integrations.
What applications would need to be integrated? If a customer is sending purchase orders, would you consume them as sales orders directly? If that was done, would you have the ability to provide reporting to every department that ‘could’ need it? This review should be done for every transaction and every trading partner.
Is your business under pressure to improve business performance around specific areas such as correct invoicing, on-time shipping, out-stock, or others? Surfacing these issues early can help evaluate specific needs that should be supported by your ultimate system. There will be others, but critical, or near-term issues should be addressed.
Assume trading partners will have attributes like item, unit of measure, location or others that do not align with your systems, how will cross referencing be done for any potential trading partner? Similarly, consider outbound transactions, such as 855, 856, 810 and others will need to be cross-referenced prior to sending to trading partners.
Does your company use an ESB, or iPaaS platform, or service for integrations elsewhere, for example HR, warehouse, or other areas? Can this system be leveraged, would it be cost-effective, if not, what about replacing it with a single system to support all? For example, can it be used to reduce the amount of services contracted from another provider? This isn’t to say, either will replace an EDI solution, but they can reduce the amount of services tremendously. That said, just because an iPaaS, or other platform has a partnership with an EDI provider, doesn’t guarantee efficiency or even functionality (Proven or planned).
Does the company use a Data Warehouse? Centrally warehousing translated EDI, and other B2B transactions enables companies to manage their own canonical. This provides massive opportunity for both savings, control over application integration and availability of information for analytics and more.
Does your company have a managed file transfer capability, sometimes referred to as “MFT”? It may include AS2, SFTP, and other data transport and security options. Having the ability to leverage an existing resource means savings downstream, but also a major savings when you have to consider your EDI transport. Keep this in mind when negotiating with integration providers, as well as when considering capabilities required by different trading partners. As a note, several iPaaS, and ESB platforms support different MFT standards. Microsoft Azure, Power Automate along with Workato, Celigo, and others all provide these capabilities using different pricing models, enabling your to pick and choose when others don’t add up from a cost perspective.
Your team will perhaps want to prioritize integrations based on highest revenue, risk to business, efficiency opportunities. Be cautious with integration providers who push their own prioritization. You can plot future invoices by how they prioritize integrations for ‘your’ business if you let them. For example, most EDI providers will push to integrate trading partners with highest number of transactions rather than prioritizing by value to business. Don’t get sidetracked increasing their revenue at your expense. This is the fastest way to project remorse.
Understanding which trading partners use which transactions, in which formats empowers your company to use the data standards most able to deliver value. Your company should be able to pull together a list of all the integrations needed, and/or being managed at any given time. As a rule, most will not be EDI. As more APIs are made available by different applications and enterprises, EDI, SOAP, and the flat files, etc. will be reducing.
It is critical to understand how your own IT department can manage data transformation across the different data standards used by trading partners. Notice I do not say EDI. EDI, whether EDIFACT, or any other format is not the only type of data to consider. And whether it is here to ‘stay’ or not has no bearing on whether it is here to stay for your company or not.
Tens of thousands of companies have been able to remove themselves from the EDI conversation based on researching what is available is all important. Consider the organizations integrating with SAP Ariba, Walmart, Amazon, and literally hundreds of others have options to look at, and consider before making a decision.
Do not get hung up on EDI as the priority because it happens to be a hot topic, or a source of pain at that moment. And definitely this is not a reason to do whatever the first, or lowest priced integration provider suggests. Diligence in understanding current, and potential data needs based on value delivery to your organization is what to focus on. Fully consider what your needs are, and what options are available before signing up for an EDI (Or any) solution.
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