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EDI and Data Integration Resolutions for 2014

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Photo appears courtesty of Luiza. It is a new year and as usual there are probably plenty of the things that you had to put off last year to due to budget constraints, time constraints or just plain old procrastination.  We thought we’d start off this year with a list of EDI and data integration projects to get accomplished in 2014.

1. Upgrade that Software –  Two big reasons why it’s important to upgrade your software are support and evolving technology.  With respect to support, you don’t want to be two versions behind, encounter a problem and find out that your version is no longer supported by your EDI vendor.  In order for a company to save a few dollars, they often will not take advantage of an upgrade and end up spending more later in support hours.  And upgrading more than one version is likely to cost more money and headaches than if you had just upgraded when the new versions were released.  Upgrades are meant to be done in a prescribed sequence…it’s almost always easier and more cost effective to follow that sequence.

Technology evolves much faster than human life ever did.  Upgrading means you have access to the latest and greatest your vendor has to offer.  The world is opening up with the introduction of new formats like JSON and integration possibilities are more flexible than ever with the growing popularity of APIs.  In order to stay relevant and competitive, you must keep up with technological advances.  What happens when your 32 bit server crashes and your EDI software version is only compatible with 32 bit?  Now that 32 bit servers are obsolete, you must upgrade to 64 bit…the last EDI software upgrade supported 64 bit systems but you didn’t upgrade.  You just made what could have been a minor mess, a much bigger one.  If you had only upgraded your EDI software when it was released, you could have just replaced your server with a 64 bit machine and your EDI software would support that change.  Now you have to not only replace your server, but you also have to upgrade your EDI software at the same time.

2. Integrate your EDI – In an integrated environment, B2B transactions happen almost instantaneously, yet you can build in process controls for approval and/or exception handling for errors.  Integration helps uphold the integrity of your data since you are reducing the possibility of human error.  Data integration also helps keep your data secure.  Today’s data integration tools allow you to dictate who, when and how users can view and use data, which is especially important in industries like healthcare where the HIPAA police are watching.  Data management from a security standpoint gets more difficult as you add variables.  Lorraine Lawson of writes in her blog, “At one time, identities were easily segregated into ‘employee,’ ‘vendor,’ ‘partner’ and ‘customer.’  Which data you accessed, which applications you used were based on these hard identities, but no more as companies see the value in exposing some of the same information or applications to customers, employees and partners.”  As CEOs and business owners begin to see the value in tools like marketing automation, Webstores, PunchOuts, as well as EDI, integrating all these processes will be necessary to maintain data security.

Ultimately, integration keeps you at the top of your game in the marketplace.  It’s not uncommon today to find a small company selling artisan toffee to the big retailers using EDI, all while also selling direct to consumers using an e-commerce site AND successfully marketing using social media.  The difference between them and those on the cutting edge is that the latter has all of these processes integrated.  Kevin Jordan of Tibco writes in his blog, “With an integrated platform, it becomes possible to predict what a customer or client will do with accuracy, and allow for a decision based on a customer’s historical data correlated with real-time events.  Imagine this: A customer is wandering around a store trying samples and suddenly receives an email or text offer for that product. Upon opening the message, it can also display some of the customer’s regular purchases and favorite products as an added offer. With well-integrated systems, the company has the opportunity to exceed shopping expectations.”

3. Adding Additional Servers – Have you been thinking about adding additional servers for testing and development or live failover?  Now is the time.  If your business has grown to the point that you need a separate environment for testing and development then do not delay.  Budgets get committed early in the year.  Just a few reasons that come to mind for adding a dev/test environment include protecting your production environment from trading partner changes.  Also, having a test environment allows you to test updates before sending erroneous data to your trading partners – eliminating charge backs and damage to your relationships.  On the hardware side, you can safely make changes and/or updates over the weekend with peace of mind.  Lastly, additional environments limit your risk of catastrophic server failure which will affect your sales and delivery process, disrupting your entire supply chain.  If you are asking yourself whether or not you need separate environments for dev/test and production, then ask yourself how your business would be affected by having your systems down.  Microsoft suggests that in any enterprise software solution, “At a bare minimum, you should separate the production environment from the other environments.”  In a perfect world, everyone in the organization would have their own sandbox to play in, software testers, developers, etc.  But if that’s not possible, you must at least protect your production environment from human error and mechanical failure.

4. Miscellaneous Projects – This list could really go on and on.  Other projects you may be considering include getting back on a software maintenance plan, adding additional trading partners, embarking on a data cleansing project, updating your payment processing system, tightening up that disaster recovery plan, or looking at different ways to analyze your data.  Regardless of what projects you are considering, get them on the calendar and get them in the budget.  And let’s gitter’ done!

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