You need to send some data to another company, and you're wondering how to do it. Generally, the first time it happens you're dealing with a much larger company, and they know how to do it. You're going to use EDI, and that's the end of the investigation phase.

EDI is the most common automated data transfer method for B2B, and for good reason. EDI has been around since the 1950's, it's a well thought out, very standardized file format and file transfer protocols.

Nobody denies that EDI is complex. The EDI specs book for one version of X12 EDI is 1930 pages. However, it's the detail of the specifications that makes EDI the best choice for automated data transfer. In EDI both partners know exactly what format the data will be in, know which elements will be included in the file, and which elements won't be included.

It may not seem obvious at first, but it's the detail and complexity of EDI that has made it successful. It's quite possible when an EDI transaction set is setup properly, it will send thousands or tens of thousands, of files without any errors. When an outgoing EDI file is setup and mapped from a SQL Query (in many cases) to an EDI file it takes developers fluent in EDI, and each data element needs to be mapped. That attention to detail makes it much more likely that data errors will be caught in the setup process and requires a great deal of thought of how to make the incoming data fit the EDI transaction set.

Why is it so important automated files are perfect? Think about it, your trading partner is relying on that data, and normally the data goes right into their system without anyone ever looking at it. Think about sending a company like GM the list of parts you just loaded onto a truck. Then say your data was wrong, and you actually sent 1200 parts but your EDI file said 1000 parts. GM would accept the list without anyone verifying it. If you had a daily shipment and you mistakenly added 200 parts to each list, by the end of the month you would be short thousands of parts, and GM would be paying you for the parts they actually used. Your company could be in big financial trouble quite quickly. Or, let's assume your part numbers were perfect, but your file isn't. The GM EDI engine would reject your file. If you're not reading the response files, you don't know it. At the end of the month, GM doesn't have the information to pay you, and it might take you weeks or months to get it straightened out. In the meantime, your company is out an entire months' worth of parts. It's important that automated files are perfect, and you read the reply files.

Many of your trading partners will have Chargebacks (also known as “expense-offsets”). They are monetary penalties imposed by retailers for non EDI compliance. Retailers impose chargebacks because supplier noncompliance creates disruption and losses for the retailer. Hence, retailers create “expense offset policies” to help them recuperate the losses they experience when suppliers are non-compliant. Retailers usually deduct chargebacks from the check payment to the supplier. Chargebacks are difficult to control because every trading partner has its own chargeback schedule. Suppliers usually get chargebacks because they have issues keeping up with changes from the retailers (vendor manuals and routing instructions are constantly changing).

Each trading partner will have a different chargeback schedule, some retailers charge as much as $50-$100 per EDI mistake or error. Some trading partner’s chargeback schedules contain hundreds of unclear reasons for chargebacks. You should hire an EDI provider that knows every trading partner’s chargeback schedule and EDI requirements.

Fortunately, the EDI specs and your trading partners companion guide lay out exactly what you need to make sure automating data transfer goes smoothly, and hiring an experienced EDI developer to implement it will be money well spent. EDI can be expensive, but once it's setup and running well, your business will run much smoother.

At EDI Shack we take contracts to fix EDI implementations constantly because the original developer didn't quite understand EDI, and implemented a system that sends a file, but doesn't properly keep track of everything. These poor companies have normally spend hundreds or thousands of hours fixing problems that could have been avoided with a better EDI implementation. It's always cheaper to get it done right the first time.