So, you’re a manufacturer or supplier of goods. It could be ‘tomatoes’, it could be ‘tires’, it could be school textbooks…let’s just lump it all together as ‘products’.
As you’ve probably already discovered, producing or sourcing those products is just the start. Now you’ve got to get them into an environment where they can be sold to an end user.
To accomplish this, there’s a lot of data and documentation that must be exchanged between you and a retailer. From Orders and Invoices to Remittance advice and Advance Ship Notices, there are hundreds of
business documents that can be exchanged between trading partners. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) has become the preferred method of exchanging this data between B2B buyers and sellers.
In simplest terms,
EDI is a data pipeline that’s established between a supplier and a retailer, and data needs to flow in both directions.
The aforementioned business documents flow from buyer to seller. Other data, such as standing inventory levels, sales reports, purchase orders, invoices, and many other pieces of information flow from the seller to the buyer. In today’s Just-In-Time (JIT) retail environment, many retailers will only deal with suppliers who can provide data via EDI, and suppliers with any kind of sales volume generally find transmitting data via EDI solves a lot of internal data management headaches.
But how do you choose the EDI solution that’s best for your business?
Types of EDI Solutions
Choosing The Right EDI Solution Provider
There are currently about 150 different EDI providers doing business in North America. Yes, that’s well over 100 possible solutions to your needs! It is important to choose the right EDI solution provider because they will truly become a partner in your business, acting as a liaison between you and your trading partners, and facilitating the daily communication of business documents.
Deciding which one’s best could be a pretty daunting task, but everything starts to become a little clearer if you follow these selection criteria to narrow down the EDI provider field:
10 Step-by-Step Process To Find The Best EDI Solution Provider
1) Determine the Specific EDI Needs of Your Business
Where are you now? And where do you want to be in 5-10 years? Do you want to play with the big, big boys on an international mass retail scale or are your goals more niche market and regional? Answering these questions will help to hone in on the extent of your future data management requirements and the levels of EDI transaction volume you’ll likely have. Not every EDI partner will be able to scale up (or down!) to meet your current and future demands.
2) Stability of the EDI Partner
A lot of these are the same questions you’d ask when screening any service provider. How long have you been in business? What sort of environment (office) do you have? Tell me about your data security standards. What is your system uptime record? If you’re not a techie, you may not understand all the jargon but at least you’ll have it to compare and ask those who do know.
3) How Accessible is Your EDI Partner When You Need Them?
The geography of your EDI partner is an interesting point. Yes, EDI operates in the same fashion as the Internet. Yes, data can be transferred from one side of the world to the other in a flash. So, technically, the location of an EDI partner’s offices shouldn’t matter. But what if you need tech support or operational help? A partner located three time zones away may not be available when you need them. At a minimum, find out about a provider’s customer support policy and hours of operation.
4) Industry-Specific EDI Partners
Some EDI providers focus on very specific industries, product lines, or even individual retail chains. Their entire business is based on servicing that niche and they’ve become very effective at dealing with the nuances involved. They can be a fantastic partner if you’re actually in their target industry but they probably won’t do business with you if you’re not.
5) EDI Scalability
As mentioned in the first point, some EDI providers focus exclusively on SME suppliers who only deal at a regional level, while others will only partner with high-volume, international suppliers. Only about 25% have the scalability in their platform to effectively do both. Keep this in mind if you’re starting small but have plans for world domination.
6) References/Testimonials for Your Selected EDI Partner
Just as if you were hiring a builder, accountant, or any other specialist, ask for a list of current clients to whom you can speak. And don’t accept a “no” on this request. Get their opinion on the platform’s usability, stability, and functionality, as well as the partner’s customer service.
7) EDI Suggestions from Retailers
While they’re often hesitant to hand out pure recommendations, the retailers you are, or are aspiring to, deal with often have lists of EDI partners they know of or have worked with in the past. Conversely, while retailers may be able to make some recommendations, they may just be comfortable with their current provider and not realize that there are better options available. As a result, it is probably best to seek out additional recommendations as well.
8) Value Added Network (VAN)
A Value Added Network (VAN) is a system of gateways, switches, and routers that connects the EDI data sender with the receiver. While there are about 150 EDI partners in North America, only a few manage their VANs. Those that do are somewhat akin to suppliers who not only offer the phones (the EDI software) but also control the phone lines (VAN), as well. Providers that do not have their own VAN have to buy capacity on other providers’ networks. EDI partners with their own VAN have total control over transmission routing, system stability, data security, and other integrity issues. Aligning with a partner that controls their own VAN goes a long way toward ensuring your EDI functionality will always be there when you need it. There are many types of VAN networks available choose the one which best suits your business needs.
9) Does the EDI Partner Offer GDSN Compliant Services?
Compliance with the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) is an emerging trend in supply chain management. The GDSN is a set of worldwide data formatting standards created to ensure there’s a common structure used by thousands of buyers and sellers sending EDI data around the globe. Most large, international retailers now mandate that their suppliers be GDSN compliant, and it will become the industry standard over the next decade. If you want to stay ahead of the curve, partner up with an EDI partner who’s already a GDSN-certified data pool provider. There are only two in North America right now and they are on the leading edge of the future.
10) Software as a Service (SaaS) EDI Solutions (Cloud-based EDI)
Do you want your EDI software and database to be hosted on your internal computers or stored remotely and accessed anytime you need them via the Internet? If you choose the latter, you need to source an EDI partner who offers a SaaS EDI solution. You may have heard of Software as a Service (SaaS) and its close relative, “cloud” computing. Right now, about 50% of North American EDI providers offer a SaaS-based EDI platform. Because SaaS platforms are hosted remotely, they require no IT support from your end, no additional hardware, and can be accessed from anywhere there’s an internet connection. Plus, if your computers go down for any reason, your data is backed up and available on the partner’s servers. The entire software industry is slowly heading in this direction so, again, if you want to be ahead of the curve and ready for the future, a cloud-based EDI solution is the way to go.
Here is the complete guide to Cloud EDI solutions.
Choosing the best EDI solution depends on the unique requirements of your business. Whether you opt for a cloud-based EDI service, on-premise software, or a fully managed solution, prioritize a system that aligns seamlessly with your existing infrastructure and long-term growth objectives. Collaborating with a reputable EDI provider can also bring added value through ongoing support, updates, and adherence to evolving compliance standards.
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Frequently Asked Questions
EDI is a digital communication method that enables the exchange of business documents between trading partners in a standardized electronic format. Businesses use EDI to automate and streamline their data exchange processes, reducing manual effort, minimizing errors, and improving overall efficiency in supply chain and business transactions.
Consider factors such as scalability, integration capabilities, industry-specific compliance, and user-friendliness. Evaluate your business requirements, growth projections, and existing technology infrastructure. Engage with EDI providers to discuss your unique needs and explore solutions tailored to your industry and company size.
Cloud-based EDI solutions offer advantages such as scalability, accessibility, and reduced maintenance costs. They are particularly beneficial for businesses with variable transaction volumes. On-premise solutions provide more control over data but may require higher upfront investments and ongoing maintenance.
EDI enhances collaboration by automating the exchange of standardized business documents. This results in faster and more accurate data processing, reducing the risk of errors and delays. Improved communication through EDI strengthens relationships with trading partners, fostering a more efficient and reliable supply chain
Reputable EDI providers offer continuous support, including system updates, compliance monitoring, and troubleshooting assistance. Many providers also offer training programs to ensure users are proficient with the EDI system. It’s crucial to choose a provider that prioritizes ongoing collaboration and provides timely support to address any issues that may arise.