There are two parts to EDI,
- Message transmission, and
- getting the right things in the message.
Like most things in software, most systems do a reasonably good job of transmitting messages, and there is a bit of variation between systems in the ability to translate between different message formats.
Most ERP vendors have their own message standards e.g. SAP iDoc, Oracle OAG XML etc.
There are then EDI/Vendor Neutral Standards
You need to check that your provider supports the various standards required to communicate with all your customers.
There are a few different business models:-
Software solutions such as Webmethods or Microsoft biztalk etc. These say they can translate anything from anything to anything. Unfortunately they often do not work as advertised. e.g. BizTalk had problems with cXML, and one customer with WebMethods was unable to set up their test system and so had to test everything on live, which handled all their WalMart transactions.
Integration services, where someone carries out the integrations on your behalf to all your partners. This is our business model, and I think it is better because
a) We charge less then the licence fees for gateways,
b) We already have live integrations to a large number of parties,
c) Plenty of experience of adding on additional integrations.
GETTING THE RIGHT THINGS IN THE MESSAGE
We were running one of the top 10 EDI sites over 10 years ago, so getting the messages right (for us) has always been easy, and we were surprised when some people had difficulty with routing and translating messages.
Getting the correct parts, and pricing into the messages is a completely different problem, and this has been our focus for the past 10 years. It is straight forward for an MRP system, that has a few hundred parts. It is challenging as soon as you get into 10’s of thousands of items and a serious exercise once you get over 100,000 items.
We have a single customer that has over 500,000 items under contract with suppliers. This is the UK National Health Service, and we are providing the top health suppliers, with e-commerce systems so that they can maintain all of their products, pictures and descriptions.
As the volume of information expands, the quality needs to improve so that buyers and see items that they buy infrequently and purchase the correct item.
Our focus for the past 10 years has been the correct item at the correct discounted price, with the correct carriage/delivery charges, and any configuration information(business cards, hearing aids etc).
Automating the flow of this information into a suppliers system removes most of the causes of returns and ordering errors.
We then flow back the delivery information to the supplier, so that they are aware of any disputes up front, and can send back an accurate invoice that covers the goods or service that has actually been delivered.
There are lots of other messages that can be exchanged, but the initial focus must be on accurate orders and invoices, since this removes the most waste from the process.
There is a lot of stuff around getting quotes and ordering services, along with small business adoption so that you can have a 100% solution.
We have developed an integrated Web Development environment (Cloud Development Platform), so that it is quick to add in any bespoke applications that are required for customers. e.g. a Domiciliary Care Portal for social services, along with an integration tool kit for most common web languages so that it is easy to add in any existing applications to the process.
After writing our EDI systems in the 90’s, we came back at the problem from the opposite direction by creating a business directory, and writing e-commerce sites for suppliers (which have correct price, delivery etc).
This started as a post on one of the supply chain groups in linked-in answering the above question.