Your EDI Resource

Data Integration: A Buying Guide

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Nov 17, 2017 @ 01:29 PM

bigstock--131190917.jpgThis blog was written by Jim Gonzalez.  Over the last 20 years I have been asked a lot of questions by customers and fellow peers about data integration. What I have found is that there are five questions that need to be answered and these are in no particular order. Of course, these questions can and often do lead to new questions.  But if you can answer the following initial questions, you will may just stop going in circles and start on a path to success.

File Formats/Layouts to be Integrated:
               
Are you looking to deal with EDI, XML, CSV, Pipe delimited etc..? A lot of times you will just need to start off handling one format based on your initial engagement. It could be an internal engagement between one department or another. It could be an engagement between your company and a buyer. As I said earlier answering one question can lead into a lot of other questions. Please try to keep your focus on what is right in front of you or upcoming in the next couple of months, not what could be many years away.  Long term goals need to be kept in mind while constructing a solution, but it’s easy to get sidetracked so it’s important to prioritize: now, one year from now, five years from now, etc.
 
Investment:
 
How much can you afford to spend? Truly analyze that question and know your answer. You will need to have your software costs locked down and not variable. A huge piece that most people don’t take into full consideration is professional services. Professional services covers billable hours for software installation, map development, consulting and training. Don’t allow a company or consultant to give you a range of hours they don’t commit too. If you allow them to change the hour range when there is no increase in workload it can ruin the entire project. All companies and individuals need to be held accountable to the Statement of Work.  You can’t change your mind and then expect the consultants to not change the hours required.  Just as a consultant can’t change the hours required to complete a project because they didn’t account for all of your upfront requirements.
 
ROI (Return on Investment):
 
How many work hours are you saving? This can be hard to quantify but see this blog for more info on that.  Also, would you be increasing revenue with customers? You have to factor in every value-add that data integration will bring. If you can pull it all together and effectively present to the upper level management, it will further your cause and help get your project approved. The more headaches that can be resolved and the less human intervention required will allow your company to accomplish its business goals.

Goals to be accomplished:
 
Was this mandated by a customer to continue doing business by using EDI or another format? Are you simply doing this to appease a disgruntled employee? Did upper level management hear of this new thing while at the latest conference? No matter how it came about, the bottom line is that you need to move forward with data integration. Keep a record of the successes you have accomplished as each process gets done. It will allow for a time line of events and can lead to more opportunities for data integration that you never even considered. I have implemented many systems over the years and resolved issues for clients who didn’t realize the issues existed.

On Premise or Hosted:
 
Can your current network handle the data integration? Do you need to purchase additional hardware? Do you have the staff to handle the support? How do you feel about another company hosting the hardware and software for you? Have you weighed the costs? The question of whether you’re better off with hosted or on-premise never has an easy answer and you will find everyone has an opinion. This usually is all preference based. My preference is to control the hardware and software in house. It is an investment that will pay off in the long run. Never allow yourself to get stuck in a short term solution that can’t grow with your organization.
 
My conclusion for all of this, is that you need to know what you want or at least have an idea.  If you can come up with answers to the above questions, with proper guidance you will be able to construct an appropriate solution to meet your business objectives. Since you are reading this, rest assured you have found yourself the right group of partners that you can trust. A good consultant can bring his or her years of knowledge and experience to help you succeed. When I finish an implementation I feel an accomplishment that is unmatched. Reach out and let us know the pitfalls you have going on with your company!  Take advantage of our no cost, no obligation consultation.

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Tags: EDI considerations, EDI software, data integration, hosted EDI, EDI Consultant

Comparing ROI for Integrated Electronic Trading

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Nov 03, 2017 @ 08:30 AM

33371972730_a10de20de8_z.jpg

Picture appears courtesy of GotCreditThis blog was written by Karen Blood of GraceBlood LLC.  Most retailers and e-tailers, and an increasing number of other businesses, will only purchase from suppliers who will do business via EDI or some other B2B electronic trading platform.  Not to worry:  this mandate can have tangible benefits for your company too. These benefits are both strategic and operational.  B2B electronic capability can strategically give you an advantage by strengthening your relationships with customers and vendors, improving loyalty and long-term alliances. Your “EDI-enabled” business opens the door to increased sales over the same channels – improving your bottom line.  In the process you become more competitive and able to thrive, directly affecting the value of your company.

Operationally, B2B electronic trading reduces both the time and human attention required to complete data entry and order processing. Your integrated capabilities deliver faster order processing with fewer manual errors and faster delivery times which increases customer satisfaction. Decreased operating expenses and improved accuracy in fulfillment and procurement can deliver profits and improve cash flow.

While strategic benefits can be difficult for which to calculate Return on Investment (ROI), we can easily do so for the operational benefits.  For suppliers, a decision on how best to approach a mandate to retain or win the customer’s business should include a careful consideration of ROI.

While many supply chain companies operate with a mix, let’s consider ROI using three approaches, one manual and two integrated:

  1. web-trading, where your orders are picked up, entered, acknowledged, and processed through to an invoice either manually or by visiting a website
  2. on premises integrated, where your routine orders appear in your order processing system and are processed through to invoice by an intermediate system that is located and operated within your business
  3. cloud-based managed services, also integrated and where your routine orders appear in your order processing system and are processed through to invoice through an intermediate system located in the cloud and is operating transparently

ROI may also be useful in evaluating a move from web-trading to one of the integrated approaches or between them.

Let’s look at an example that you can easily tailor and use. First, we calculate our own average cost to process an order. Add up the annual manual or non-integrated order processing expenses – from receipt of order, to entry, to acknowledgement, to shipping notice, to invoice – considering all personnel, overhead and equipment, and adding in any fees charged by customers for using their portal or for failing to comply with their preferred trading approach. Divide this annual total expense by the total number of sales orders processed during the year.  This becomes your cost to process an average order.

Aberdeen studies have estimated typical savings with end-to-end electronic processing of an order as compared to manual in the 60-75% range.   This example projects an average distributor for three customers integrating four documents over the end-to-end order to invoice process and trading 500 orders/month while conservatively projecting a 50% savings for integration over manual processing.

Click below to download a spreadsheet for use in calculating and comparing your own Return on Investment for B2B Electronic Trading. Only a few additional inputs are needed, and these are in yellow. Besides the Average Cost per Manually Processed Sales Order, count your top routine customers and determine the total # of orders you receive from them in a year. Typical transaction types of documents to integrate are the inbound Sales Order, the outbound Order Acknowledgement, Ship Notice & Invoice. Adjust If your partners don’t usually need all four.

This takes care of our Manual or Web Trading column and calculates our cost to process all the chosen customers’ orders end-to-end. For the On Premises column, we must consider our initial investments in software and systems, as well as ongoing operational and maintenance expenses such as staff and transmission fees. These may vary based on your ERP’s capabilities and version, and your customers’ requirements. Similarly, for cloud-based Managed Services, while there may be an initial investment to augment your ERP’s capabilities, the costs for translation mapping, transport and testing are included in the Managed Services Startup Investment while activity, monitoring, maintenance and management is included in the Managed Services monthly Activity.

GB ROI.jpg

While ROI will vary, we can see that in addition to the perceived strategic benefits of Integrating Electronic Trading, we also can simply demonstrate and quantify an operational Return on Investment that is unique to your company.  Of course, adding additional partners – a very wise step to take after initial investments – results in a multiplier effect and adds even more to your bottom line.

Click below for access to the handy spreadsheet illustrated above.

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Tags: data integration, supply chain, EDI ROI, hosted EDI, electronic data interchange, Web EDI, Managed Services, EDI

Aurora EDI Alliance Biography Series: Jim Gonzalez

Posted by Shandra Locken on Mon, Oct 23, 2017 @ 08:30 AM

12C.jpgWe are excited to announce that we have a new addition to the Aurora EDI Alliance.  Jim Gonzalez, a 20 year EDI veteran, has joined the gang as an EDI consultant and yet again expanded our ever growing knowledge base of expertise on EDI and data integration.  Jim joins us from the Philadelphia area and I recently had the chance to get to know him a little for the purpose of this article. 

He graduated from Berks Technical Institute in 1998 with an Associate’s Degree in AS/400 programming. Jim was then hired by Kissinger Associates as a programmer in January of 1998 to work on MAS90/MAS200.  Six months into the position he was asked to move to Technical Support to learn EDI as well as other formats for integration. From there he got a real EDI education – learning how to handle client EDI support, onsite installation of EDI software, run formal EDI training class and manage support staff as well as consultants. He considers himself to be well versed in all aspects of EDI and what it takes to support an organization.  Jim also has extensive experience in Sage ERP products.

An established professional in this industry, Jim works with clients to offer support for daily processing, bringing on new integrations and planning towards the future of where to take their organization.  He has a knack for learning the deficiencies in any company he works with and turning those deficiencies into areas of success.  One problem that he enjoys solving for his clients is helping them to become more self-sufficient.  Jim’s ideal client would say he is all about improving their business processes and making EDI profitable again.  He is passionate about being the client’s advocate when it comes to dealing with software companies, EDI Trading Partners, and other organizations they need help with navigating.  He knows he has done his job well when he sees his clients growing and are profitable.    

On a personal note, family and friends are important to him.  In his spare time, you can find Jim either wedding planning (his own), learning, reading, watching sports or spending time with his dogs.  He loves to laugh and have a good time with good people.  He grew up outside of Reading, Pennsylvania and still lives in Berks County.  Although Jim has traveled all over the country he would never call anywhere else home.  He volunteers with the Children’s Home of Reading and also supports the local Animal Rescue League

When asked how he wants to be remembered, he says, “I want to be remembered as a great Dad, loving family member and friend. I want people to think of me as working side by side with them. Your name is the only thing you can take with you.”

Please join us in welcoming Jim to the fold.  We look forward to working with him!

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Tags: EDI integration, EDI Technology, EDI Consultant, EDI, Integration, Sage

MSG Segment Should Not Equal "Fine Print"

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Oct 06, 2017 @ 02:26 PM

bigstock-Business-Acronym-Edi-As-Electr-88291748.jpgThis week's blog was written by Art Douglas.

There are strange things done

In the midnight sun

By the men who map and code

The X12 trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold

The o’erhead lights have seen queer sights

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night late in March

A penalty charge; I was dinged by an M-S-G.

With apologies to the great poet Robert W. Service, I’m referring to the hideous practice of placing MSG segments in EDI messages like Purchase Orders, and expecting your Trading Partner to collect, read, and react to them accordingly.

EDI was never intended to be a word processor.  It’s not the place for boilerplate information like you see in the fine print of every contract.  We have specific places for important information in the transaction set, and the MSG segment is not it. 

Here’s what I mean:

Client X receives 850 Purchase Orders and 860 PO Change notices from their TP “M.”  Buried in every one of those documents is a whole slew of MSG segments that collectively say they better be an Equal Opportunity Employer.  Just between us, isn’t this information more fittingly agreed to before M starts buying from X?  Put it in the Trading Partner Agreement (TPA) – a contract between partners.  I suggest you also put something in there about the TPA not being modified by a unilateral declaration.  Let your lawyer figure out the exact wording.

Client Y receives HL7 transactions to notify an insurer of medical lab test results.  For each occurrence of each test, the sender inserts an entire medical explanation for the test, and a table explaining the meaning for the results.  A test requires a few lines.  Triple that to accommodate the repetitive descriptive verbiage.

Client Z receives an 850 with shipping instructions in an MSG, but not in the correct segments for specifying shipping instructions.  When his shipping office fails to see the instructions in the wrong place, the customer is angry because things didn’t go as expected, and the seller may end up with a huge penalty that could have been avoided had the purchaser coded the 850 correctly.

These are three examples out of many that we all know are commonly encountered. Some are little more than a waste of bandwidth and storage.  Others prevent our employers or clients from receiving information critical to the business transaction.

As an EDI analyst, I have very little influence over what the Trading Partner sends me.  But if others join me, and if we get our business office customers to understand the issues and support our cause, we may be able to affect a change for the better here or there.  What can we do?  Discuss the issues with our business offices – the Sales team, Procurement, A/R and A/P.  Take ownership of the Trading Partner Agreement process.

In today’s competitive business environment, every penalty we avoid, every customer we serve better, every dollar of profit we preserve is a win.

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Tags: supply chain, EDI document, EDI Consultant, EDI

The Back to School Supply Chain

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Sep 01, 2017 @ 08:30 AM

7957359556_ddae862b53_z.jpgPhoto appears courtesy of Lyn Lomasi.  Ever wonder how all those school supplies make it into the extremely crowded "back to school" area of Walmart?  The process involves a tightly connected network of buyers, suppliers, EDI providers, teachers and 29 million households.  The "back to school" supply chain probably starts sometime in the spring, when buyers all over the US predict what will be most in demand for the coming school year.  Will the pre-sharpened Ticonderoga pencils be available or not?  Will pencil top erasers be on the supply lists?  And will there be enough glue sticks for the two dozen each parent will be required to buy?  As I walked around Walmart this year, frantically looking for everything on my twins' supply lists, it occurred to me none of these people have any idea what led up to this chaos.

In the spring, buyers start looking at previous years' sales on school supplies.  Although many of these supplies are always carried in the stores, the levels needed for the "back to school" season will need to be drastically increased.  This is largely how they decide on quantities.  So if a store last year sold 5,000 cases of sharpened Ticonderoga pencils but only 1,000 unsharpened ones, maybe those quantities need to be adjusted to account for the difference and this year's order quantities will reflect that.  There's also the matter of locale.  In some regions, parents are NOT purchasing their children's school supplies.  In states with higher state income tax like California, parents rely on the schools to supply students with pencils and glue sticks, and those schools are likely buying those supplies via an online web portal, which is another blog topic.  Although those parents are still shopping for folders and back packs - it does not resemble Christmas Eve at noon like your average Arizona Staples in August.

Once those buyers are ready to place their orders, they notify their suppliers of their vendor expectations and that usually involves Electronic Data Interchange (EDI).  Unless the supplier is a huge company like Elmer's Glue, who probably has been EDI capable for 20 years, the supplier will need to implement an EDI solution in order to accept EDI 850s (POs) and send back EDI 810s (invoices).  The small company who makes plastic pencil cases and lands a deal with Target will likely need to research and choose an EDI provider.  Once the EDI relationship with Target is established, they will need to get through testing in time to ship those POs by the deadline.  Then the supplier hopes that my children will want those cases (along with thousands of others) and they will get repeat orders.

Once the shelves are stocked, parents are logging into the district website to download the supply lists that were requested by the teachers.  My list his year called for headphones, two boxes of 24 count crayons, erasers, a red spiral notebook, washable markers, 2-pocket folders and the list goes on.  Considering I spent close to $100 for both of my children, this is big business.  According to the National Retail Federation, 2017 back to school spending will reach $83.6 billion.  It is the second busiest shopping season of the year and encompasses more than just pencils.  Also on my supply lists were antibacterial wipes, Ziploc bags, hand sanitizer and Kleenex.  The stores' merchandising departments have figured this out because ALL of these items were available in the "back to school" area of the store.  Many parents are also purchasing higher dollar items like school uniforms, laptops and other gadgets.

One segment of this industry that is steadily growing in popularity is the category of prepackaged kits that are available from online retailers like www.edukitinc.com.  Edukit works in cooperation with schools to assemble boxes of supplies each grade level has requested, including specific brands as well as quantities and offers these boxes for one price, delivered directly to the school.  The limitation is your school must participate in the program and as of this writing, my school did not.  According to Deloitte, parents will spend on average 40% more on these pre-assembled boxes, but this just goes to show that convenience offers value to busy parents, and they are willing to pony up.  Other companies that offer these kits include www.schoolkidz.com (owned by Staples) and www.schooltoolbox.com.  

As you are shopping this weekend for YOUR kids, and trying to navigate the sea of people with their lists, just imagine all that has gone into this busy shopping season, how many hours are put in by all involved from the buyer to the merchandiser, and how much money is being poured into the economy.  Not to mention how much teachers are spending out of their own paychecks to educate our children.  I guarantee that $100 will not seem so bad.

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Tags: supply chain, EDI provider, EDI, EDI solution, back to school

EDI as a Leading Economic Indicator – It’s Getting Hot Out There

Posted by Roger Curtis on Fri, Aug 11, 2017 @ 08:30 AM

36277261342_86a50f0364_z.jpgPicture appears courtesy of Christian Witte.  It’s getting hot out there…and I’m not talking about climate change.  Our garden is not doing well, but that’s a topic for another day.

I must be talking about the economy -  something is going on. For the past three years now I’ve been getting non-stop calls and myriad assignments from clients in a wide range of businesses who are either adding new EDI, XML and JSON transactions or additional and/or new trading partners.  Economic recovery is a beautiful thing for EDI consultants like myself – and for my clients.

It doesn’t matter whether they manufacture leis or souvenir t-shirts on the Hawaiian Islands destined for the local Wal*Mart and Sears stores (typically Web-based EDI) or tiles made in China or by local US artisans destined for showrooms around the country (on-premise EDI mapped into Oracle and JD Edwards).  You can have South Korean tire manufactures selling to General Motors and Audi/BMW (we even did the German OFTP protocol) and the major tire distributor/shop chains (they love their SAP) or a fast-growing company selling the card readers you see at craft fairs, farmers markets, and oh yes, the microbreweries (usually Oracle). Oh, can't forget the tomatoes, or rather the tomato packing company. They run 24/7 this time of year and heaven forbid the EDI server goes down when scheduling the shipments this time of year – their packing season.

What do they all have in common?  They are all using EDI to stay competitive in the global marketplace.  Not to mention the medical device/pharmaceutical/medical supply companies who integrate with CVS, Rite-Aid, and dozens of hospitals and health care exchanges. Everyone and their cousin seems to do business with Amazon, selling everything you can imagine.  It’s a good thing we use versatile software like Liaison’s Delta/ECS package to meet all of their requirements.  The flexibility and scalability of Delta/ECS allows for almost any integration solution you can imagine. 

Delta/ECS’ versatility calls to mind a recent assignment for a 3rd party manufacturer of game controllers which called for me to integrate their Microsoft Dynamics Navision ERP software into a 3PL distribution company down under in Australia.  We accomplished this with a custom developed XML interface in order to break into the Australian market and integrate using flavors of EDIFACT EDI documents with major electronics chains across Australia, New Zealand,  and the UK, as well as Amazon.de for the German market. I could not have successfully executed such an assignment without flexible and robust EDI software.  Just scheduling project communication alone was complicated!  Set-up calls and emails start in the early morning for Europe and end late in the day (here) for Australia.  It’s a good thing I’ve got a good Skype connection. I’m on a first name basis with EDI coordinators and business people across about eleven time zones – definitely makes for good conversation.

With all this data flowing 24/7 and VAN, AS2 and secure FTP traffic going through the roof we know the economy is really humming along and the growth of EDI is the indicator. You can invest in it.

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Tags: EDI integration, EDI Technology, integration software, EDI software, data integration, EDI Implementation, ERP integration, AS2, EDI Consultant, EDI

Too Many Cooks in the EDI Kitchen

Posted by Warren Spiller on Tue, Aug 01, 2017 @ 08:30 AM

9680397614_bbe28f3629_z.jpgPhoto appears courtesy of Les Roches Global Hospitality Education.  I have spent many years implementing and supporting EDI solutions from Liaison Technologies with both private and public companies, including the military. 

There is often a “the more the merrier” philosophy when it comes to getting people involved in conference calls concerning EDI implementation.  It is not unusual for a me to join a conference call regarding an EDI project, such as adding a new EDI trading partner, that includes up to 20 people.  Many of these folks have no idea why they were asked to participate, or even know what “EDI” stands for. 

We’ve all been there, on conference calls with too many people – trying to explain what you do and why.  Usually, it goes a little something like this:

  • Opinions are expressed but we do not recognize the voice expressing them.  
  • Irrelevant questions are asked because the speaker is out of touch with the purpose of the call. 
  • Meeting notes and process updates are then emailed to all participants (“reply all”) throughout the length of the process, including the myriad “out of office” messages that everyone receives and deletes.
  • In the end, very few of those on the original call will remember what the purpose of the project was.

This often complicates and slows down the process, not to mention overloads email inboxes.  So, depending on the nature of the EDI process, think carefully about who should be involved in the meetings and conference calls.

EDI implementations consist of both business and technical issues.  In advance of the conference call, the EDI project manager should meet with the various department heads (A/P, A/R, Sales, Customer Service, etc.) and determine any business issues that might affect the EDI implementation.  For example, in addition to the usual EDI transactions, purchase orders (EDI 850), invoices (EDI 810), etc., does the new EDI trading partner require any special or unique information?  Does Sales need to be notified when a PO comes in?  Once these business issues are determined, there should be no need for these individuals to be continually involved in the implementation conference calls.

At this point, conference calls need only involve the project manager and technical people who will be handling the technical side of the EDI implementation.  This might at times also involve technical people representing the trading partner, ERP vendor, etc.  Reducing the “number of cooks” will greatly simplify the process and free up those business folks to do what they best – sell, market, manage, etc. 

Need more information on how an ideal EDI implementation should go?  You can always look for guidance from the EDI professional partners of the Aurora EDI Alliance.  We love to help.

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Tags: EDI Technology, EDI considerations, EDI Implementation, EDI Consultant, EDI, business processes

EDI Application Upgrade: A Little Planning Goes a Long Way

Posted by Shandra Locken on Mon, Jul 17, 2017 @ 08:30 AM

6611378317_c4948f659b_z.jpgPhoto appears courtesy of brownpau.  This blog was written by Kim Zajehowski, Aurora's Manager of EDI Hosting.  How many times have you scheduled to do an EDI application upgrade only to find out you have not met all of the requirements the day of the upgrade or that users were not informed that the system would be unavailable during upgrade time? The objective is to eliminate surprises during the upgrade process and reduce stress when you have to shut down your EDI functionality while you are upgrading your EDI system. Your EDI system is probably one of the most critical applications in your environment.

Proper planning is the key when scheduling your upgrades to avoid future headaches during the process. It is very helpful to develop a checklist of all of the tasks that are required during the upgrade process and check them off as you go. The checklist can then be referenced for future upgrades as well and tweaked as required.

Some key tasks that should appear on your checklists are as follows: 

  • Obtain the latest application version software and documentation from your reseller or application technical support. This may take a little time depending on your media choice. Some may have to download image files from a vendor’s FTP site and convert them to the necessary format to be able to use them. Make sure you have the image conversion process readily available. Others can download the files required directly to their system without having to convert them. 
  • You may want to reach out to the application community groups (i.e. Yahoo Groups) to poll to see if anyone has encountered any issues on upgrading to the latest version of the software.  Sometimes the best source of information is fellow users.
  • Review the documentation. There may be separate procedures for upgrading vs. a new installation of the applications.
  • Review your system requirements. Ensure that you have applied all of the necessary patches, system operating system upgrades, etc. prior to your upgrade date. You may also be required to do a step upgrade where you have to do a preliminary upgrade to a more recent version of the application prior to upgrading to the latest version.
  • Discuss the upgrade with all parties involved to help in planning the best time to do the upgrade. During the week may not be feasible and the weekend may be best time to do it. Keep in mind that support resources may be limited on weekends and off hours if you do run into an upgrade issue. Set an agreed upon upgrade date.
  • Schedule to do clean up and/or purge on your existing data and review your data retention policies prior to the upgrade date. The less data for the upgrade to work with is better and the upgrade will finish faster.  See another blog we did a while back on eHoarders.
  • Determine if there are any database or application interface changes that may affect your existing processes. You may or may not have to modify and recompile some of your processes, programs, etc.
  • Determine if there are any menu, screen, etc. changes within the application that you may have to review with users.
  • On the day of upgrade, ensure no EDI processes are running and all EDI users have been made aware that the EDI application will be temporarily down during the upgrade process. You may have to disable or shut down any automated EDI procedures. During most EDI application upgrades, you have to have exclusive use of the EDI system in order to perform the upgrade successfully.
  • Ensure that you are signed in as an administrator or security officer user and perform a backup of the necessary objects prior to any upgrade and ensure that you have the restore procedures readily available to restore the application if you run into an issue.
  • When doing the upgrade, you will want to be signed in as the administrator, security officer, or application service user when doing the upgrade depending on the application. For Liaison products, it is best to use the Liaison ECS service user to ensure the proper permissions are in place for the upgrade.  Permissions issues is the number one problem we see in upgrades and installations.
  • Follow the application upgrade documentation to perform the upgrade.
  • Once the upgrade has completed, try testing inbound and outbound communications to your networks, trading partners, etc. by resetting a functional acknowledgement to be sent and reprocess an inbound functional acknowledgement from your VAN if you have that functionality on their portal.
  • Once successful testing of transactions has been completed, start any disabled procedures and inform your users that the system is now available.
  • Provide training for users if any application changes or procedural changes that may affect them.

The more thorough the planning and preparations are prior to your upgrade, the more successful the upgrade process will be. I will always remember what a past manager of mine many years ago would say, “Plan your work, Work your plan.” This statement can be your mantra when working on any project not just an EDI upgrade.

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Tags: EDI integration, EDI Technology, EDI software, data integration, data security, EDI Consultant, EDI Documentation, EDI, business processes

Improving Your Business Processes: What Teaching College Has Taught Me

Posted by Faith Lamprey on Wed, Jul 05, 2017 @ 08:30 AM

5192120094_3ce4a6457a_z.jpgPhoto appears courtesy of Shane Global.  Teaching college level classes is always challenging and fun.  The students have a great desire to succeed in their field in business, but lack the knowledge of how business works and what they will actually be doing once they join the full time work force.  

Mastery of Excel skills is something I always stress in all of my classes.  While I use Excel on a daily basis, teaching it to students forces me to keep up on the current versions of Microsoft and learn more of the techniques that are available.  I now use Pivot Tables, Conditional Formatting, and LOOKUP Tables on a regular basis.

Looking at your business processes from someone else’s eyes is a good practice to find places in which you can improve.  Our Accounts Receivable process got reviewed this spring by a team of students from an Accounting Information Systems class.  What they performed is part of the internal control work that is done prior to a financial systems audit.  It included interviews with me and other of our personnel.  The student team prepared narrative descriptions with flowcharts of the processes we use, documented controls we have in place, and identified missing controls.  They came up with a few suggestions for improvements to allow for greater integration.  In Academia we call this type of project Experiential Learning (students doing projects out in the real world) and it is all the rage on campuses.  It was fun to be on the other side of this and sit in the "real" instead of the "academic" chair.

Another thing students help me with is to think “outside of the box” in solving problems.  This is something we talk about a lot in our industry.  Inexperience, sometimes seen as a weakness, is in fact, many times an asset as these students are not set in always looking at a problem in the same way.  They are not afraid to try new things and many times they come up with a new way to look at a problem that provides for a streamlined solution.  Problem solving skills is one of the best things they will take with them into their careers.

They say to really learn something is to teach it and I have found that to be very true.  It is refreshing to work with these young minds and to be able to help them on their road to success.  See the other blog I wrote on these so-called Millennials, and how much I enjoy teaching them.  They certainly keep me on my toes and they have made me a better business professional in the process.

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Tags: technology, Integration, business processes, accounting information systems, a/r process

EDI + API = Supply Chain Success!

Posted by Shandra Locken on Mon, Jun 26, 2017 @ 08:30 AM

8603836832_48dd384d11_z.jpgPhoto appears courtesy of Morag Riddell.  This blog was written by Karen Blood of GraceBlood LLC, a partner of the Aurora EDI Alliance.  No surprise, today’s most successful supply chain companies are doing more and more business electronically. From a personal consumer perspective, aren’t we all? Industry leaders like Amazon, AutoZone and Walmart understand this and are driven from the boardroom to the warehouse to handle all aspects of business over proliferating electronic channels. Suppliers at each level up on the supply chain are finding it necessary to accommodate their down-channel customers’ end-customer’s desire for, and reliance on, real-time transactions and information. This has a challenging ripple effect on their suppliers, carriers and 3PLs, as well as their own operations.

So, what’s becoming more important? For B2B, and B2B-fulfilling-for-C, interdependence, collaboration and flexibility are joining responsiveness, accuracy and quality product as hallmarks of a successful business relationship. For any kind of profitable volume, Integration at the data level between business systems remains THE basic requirement to achieve this.

Taking a high-level view, there are two main technologies being used today to exchange and integrate data between business systems: Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). The chart below examines the functional differences of these two approaches as might be important to a supply chain company.

 

E D I

A P I s

Types of Message Content

PO, PO ACK, ASN, Invoice, Order Status, many more

Same, with an emphasis on real-time queries such as pricing & availability

Typical Trading Partners

 Amazon, Autozone, GM, Walmart- big retail & manufacturers, buying groups

Amazon, Jet.com, e-commerce shopping carts, carriers

Usage in the Supply Chain

Still growing

Growing exponentially

Max Speed

Minutes, although typically batch processed on a schedule

Real-time

Content Structure specified by

Usually provided by customer

Target business system

Response to message Content

Another EDI message

May be immediate and actionable

Visibility of messages end to end

Varies by business system and middleware

Varies by target business system

Use with Legacy business systems

Good

Not recommended for direct integration

Best Integrated by

Person most familiar with trading partner and target business system, and EDI implementer

Person most familiar with trading partner and target business system, and API developer

Maintenance required

Minimal, as usually stable & well-defined

Comparably, more due to moving target aspects

Transport

HTTP/S, SFTP, FTP

HTTP/S

Response to message Transport

Immediate for some, otherwise return EDI message

Immediate

Content Type

X12, EDIFACT

JSON or XML

Security of message

may be encrypted

may be encrypted

# of Transactions in a Message

One to large quantity

One

Bulk (size) of Message

Least, especially for larger batches

XML is bulky, JSON less so but still carries descriptors with each data element

Readability of raw message

Easy for EDI-savvy

Should be easier

Both EDI & APIs may have a place in your organization. There is no need to choose one over the other, only what is most appropriate for your various business requirements and considering your human and system resources. GraceBlood’s typical distribution client is using EDI for trading with customers and suppliers, and APIs for carriers and their e-commerce shopping carts. In any case, achieving Integration for as much business activity as possible is paramount.

Preparation for Integration – Best Practices for EDI, Required for APIs!

  • Inventory system is in order – items, warehouses, availability, catalog information including size & weights
  • Order management system is well-used – pricing, fulfillment priorities, notifications, returns
  • Shipping system is integrated with order management
  • Inventory system is integrated with Everything
  • Systems Housekeeping is a Routine Process
  • Printing to paper is Very Unusual
  • The company runs by ADWIAD, “A Day’s Work in A Day”, and usage of all business systems supports this
  • Business partners are selected by their ability to ADWIAD too

More than ever, supply chain success means meeting the challenge of keeping up with the down-channel customer – us!

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Tags: amazon, API, Walmart, EDI, Autozone, Integration