Businesses across the supply chain commonly use electronic data exchange (EDI) to map, translate and exchange business documents with partners in a timely manner.
Whenever you embark on an EDI integration, you’ll encounter many moving parts. You’ll need to perform file transfer and translation, build and parse EDI documents and then integrate these documents with back-end applications, such as CRM, ERP or accounting systems. EDI also depends on complex, hierarchical data to create shipping documents for complicated shipping arrangements, such as orders that require multiple parts to arrive at the same time.
With such a labyrinthe of end-to-end processes, much can go wrong. Here are common challenges I’ve encountered during EDI integration projects and the EDI software solutions to address them.
1. Brittle Integrations
Organizations may build integrations that are not standardized. If these custom integrations are highly dependent on each other to support a specific process, and are not well tested, the code can become brittle. Applications become difficult to migrate and do not react well to updates, while changes become costly to implement.
Solution: Standardized Integration Using Connectors and APIs
Using standard code or API driven microservices gives you testable, reusable components that make your integration less brittle and more reliable. Specifically, modern EDI software solutions should come with EDI messaging and API connectors that can:
- Automatically translate, map and change file formats from your enterprise applicators to various EDI messaging standards
- Perform secure file transfer to send files from one trading partner to another (ideally, these would be Drummond-Certified to satisfy partner requirements)
- Process or generate documents based on pre-defined templates
- Create APIs that kick off message flows for process-based orchestration
2. Limited Capabilities
Often during an integration, unanticipated issues arise. For example, you might want to incorporate a post-processing event that routes a file to multiple destinations or resubmits a message after 50 minutes if it initially fails to transmit.
Solution: Agility and Extensibility
Having a flexible platform that supports customizations and enables you to make adjustments on-the-fly to handle issues specific to your business processes is critical. Look for an agile EDI solution that comes with:
- Full control to customize your integrations
- Flexible deployment options to meet customer requirements
- Cross-platform configuration to extend the platform in a highly flexible manner
- A developer API included with the platform
- Compatibility with all major databases and system disks to support you as you scale
3. Lack of Internal Expertise
One of the biggest challenges during an integration is when a company has no ownership of the integration project in-house. If a problem arises, such as an incorrect value for a field, the company is often left without a clear path forward. In the meantime, the company may have purchase orders piling up, which can lead to chargebacks that eat away at profit margins when orders are not processed within the contracted time. Fully addressing this challenge requires expertise. Ideally, you would have an EDI specialist in-house who deeply understands the process and can troubleshoot, while making adjustments. But that doesn’t make sense for every company.
Solution: Find an Expert Through Your Software Provider
Work with an expert, experienced systems integration partner who understands the scenario you need to solve. An EDI software solutions provider should be able to not only support the specifics of their product, but also put you in touch with an integration team that can help you set up your solution and design your full integration. Then, you can be assured whichever solution you select, you’ll have a team knowledgeable in its implementation to save you time and money.
4. Manual Processing
When EDI processes are not fully integrated, manual processes can drive some related workflows. For example, when companies use Web EDI with their trading partner, they log into a web portal and see all the purchase orders their partner has sent. They may click to acknowledge a particular order and then manually fill out a form to enter shipping/fulfillment information. This manual step leaves open the possibility for errors. A fully integrated, end-to-end process where people don’t have to enter information manually through the web speeds data entry and saves costs from potential chargebacks.
Solution: Low-Code, Visual Interface for Simple Integrations and Monitoring
Modern EDI solutions are now built with visual, low-code interfaces. These should enable you to complete many simple integrations using point-and-click setups, instead of custom coding.
One example, a common workflow canvas in a visual UI can map all processes that function across the entire EDI (and integration) platform. End-to-end workflows provide visibility into all integrations in one place to see how each integration impacts each process.
Another element: a low-code, visual solution can save time by more quickly and easily displaying comprehensive monitoring of EDI-based document flows, POs, invoices and other document exchanges through audit logs and a logging dashboard.
In addition, look for a solution that can simplify EDI integration by streamlining the development, execution and governance of integration flows across trading partner organizations. Find an EDI software solution that’s process-driven and comes with pre-packaged integrations and API management; you’ll reduce the amount of code you have to write or pay someone to write.
5. Multiple Applications and Multiple Integration Solutions
Different teams in an organization use different applications: CRM, Accounting, ERP/Warehousing, databases for storing information from these applications and more. Each team may build custom, isolated integrations for their own processes. In addition, the EDI process incorporates a file transfer portion to send and receive files to and from business partners, a translation process that formats and parses messages, and an integration process to push data into and out of the back-end application. Companies may use different solutions for each of these EDI integration processes.
However, organizations that use different solutions for application integration and for each of these EDI integration processes can have a steep learning curve as developers learn multiple applications. Troubleshooting can also be difficult as they hunt in different solutions for the source of a problem.
Solution: All-in-One EDI with Enhanced Visibility
Having a single integration solution for all your applications and integration processes speeds the learning curve, reduces the time needed to create a new integration, ensures that the process is reusable and repeatable, and simplifies troubleshooting.
Good tools will automate the process of inputting, transporting and outputting the message in a single, end-to-end solution. Having a single application to manage all integrations eliminates coding to integrate different pieces of the process and means there’s just one point of failure.
Solve EDI Challenges Before They Happen
Addressing all these issues ultimately requires both the right tools and the right processes. It’s much better to take your time up front, planning out your processes and evaluating the various solutions out there. Find the right tool(s), and you can prevent these common EDI issues.