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Modernizing Your Business Transactions: From EDI to JSON

Example of JSON code used for EDI transactionsTen years ago, there was some concern among EDI specialists that JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) might upend the entire EDI ecosystem and replace the venerable electronic business document exchange standard with something new and flashy. That, of course, did not come to pass—rather than replacing EDI, JSON made EDI better.

Moving from EDI to JSON isn’t about replacing EDI, but about making EDI more versatile and human-readable in a world where APIs constantly push the boundaries of what can be done with data.

What is JSON?

JSON is an open standard format that uses human-readable text to transmit data objects consisting of attribute-value pairs. It is used primarily to transmit data between a server and web application as an alternative to XML due to its flexibility, simplicity, and compatibility with JavaScript.

JSON has demonstrated its usefulness across various enterprise applications due to its flexibility, simplicity, and compatibility with modern systems. Some of the common ways businesses make use of JSON in their day-to-day operations include:

  • Providing a lightweight and readable format for data interchange over networks, making it well-suited for web APIs and microservices architectures.
  • Specifying settings, parameters, and preferences for configuration files in enterprise applications that can easily be read and edited to define system behavior, database connections, API endpoints, feature toggles, and other application-specific settings.
  • Representing data in web services and APIs, allowing clients to easily parse data.
  • Storing and manipulating structured data in databases, especially NoSQL databases like MongoDB or CouchDB, that support JSON documents natively and take full advantage of its flexible schema.
  • Configuring and describing UI (User Interface) components in enterprise applications.
  • Transforming and mapping data between different systems and formats, including EDI.

Is JSON replacing EDI?

JSON has a few advantages over EDI, namely:

  • JSON is designed to be easily human-readable and writable, whereas EDI is primarily intended to be machine-readable first and human-readable a distant second.
  • JSON supports nested structures, arrays, and key-value pairs, making it well-suited for representing complex data structures, unlike EDI, which follows rigid predefined standards and schemas.
  • JSON is widely used in enterprise-level web service APIs today and is highly compatible with modern systems, web services, and programming languages.

However, EDI isn’t in any danger of being replaced by JSON. Rather, JSON provides opportunities to improve EDI transactions, and EDI offers JSON better opportunities for data integration in businesses ranging from small operations to large enterprise organizations and everything in between.

JSON has, however, largely replaced XML in many use cases. Many ERPs today, though initially slow to adopt, have switched from XML to JSON for importing and exporting integration data. Let’s take a look at how JSON largely “won” the format wars over XML:

When and Why to Use JSON Over XML

Ten years ago, web service APIs were roughly split down the middle between XML and JSON, with half using one and the other half using the other. Today, JSON has largely won out over XML, with the vast majority of web service APIs utilizing the former over the latter.

Advantages of JSON over XML

Both XML and JSON are used in Ajax techniques—the ability of a webpage to request new data after it has loaded into the web browser, usually in response to user actions on the displayed webpage.

As part of the Ajax model, the new data is usually incorporated into the user interface display dynamically the moment it arrives back from the server. For example, when the user is typing into a search box, client-side code sends what they type to a server that will respond with a possible list of items from its database. These might be displayed in a drop-down list beneath the search box. The user may then stop typing and select the relevant string directly.

Why use JSON over XML?

When it was originally implemented, Ajax commonly used XML as the data interchange format. Now most developers use JSON to pass the Ajax updates between the server and the client, as JSON is typically faster and more efficient.

Compared with XML, JSON offers a smaller file size footprint, easier human readability, and easy extensibility through existing and emerging tools. This is one of the key factors that has led JSON to its current position of dominance in web service APIs, concurrent with the rise of big data—businesses of all shapes and sizes today need to be able to sift through a lot of data, quickly, and get actionable insights, and often JSON is simply better for collecting, managing, and interpreting big data.

That said, JSON is not pushing XML into extinction—XML remains a widely supported and used standard for delivering and rendering web data. XML continues to have its niche in the web ecosystem, but in the enterprise world, JSON and EDI have established themselves as a real power couple.

When JSON Works Together with EDI

When you convert your EDI data to JSON, you unlock a new dimension of EDI—human-readable EDI.

EDI was developed for the benefit of computers, not necessarily for humans. It’s a format designed for machines to easily exchange business data in a way that they can easily make sense of, but humans don’t have such an easy time reading it.

One of JSON’s advantages over XML, which led to its dominance in the API world, was how clean and well-structured it was—compared to XML, any human could reasonably read it, understand it, and even edit it as needed. The same is true for JSON and EDI.

So converting from EDI to JSON isn’t about leaving EDI behind—but rather bringing EDI into the twenty-first century. We’ve written a bit on how EDI and APIs work together, and it’s much the same with JSON and EDI—especially since JSON is so widely used in APIs.

How to Convert from EDI to JSON

The general process for converting from EDI to JSON follows five steps:

Step 1: EDI Input

The first step in converting EDI documents to JSON format is receiving your EDI input from your trading partners, which conform to specific EDI standards such as ANSI X12 or UN/EDIFACT.

Step 2: EDI Parsing

Next, you take your EDI documents and parse them using your preferred EDI parser or translator, which understands the EDI syntax and structure and extracts the relevant data elements.

Step 3: Transforming Data from EDI to JSON

Now that you’ve extracted relevant data elements, you can map that EDI data from elements, segments, and segment groups to JSON key-value pairs, arrays, and nested structures. An EDI-to-JSON converter API will accomplish this process with little need for manual intervention.

Step 4: JSON Output

Now you have your JSON output, which can be easily processed, manipulated, and integrated with various programming languages, frameworks, and APIs in modern systems.

Step 5: Further Data Processing As Needed

Once you’ve converted your EDI to JSON, you can do as you please with the data, just as you would with native JSON data, for example:

  • Data validation
  • Data enrichment
  • Data analysis
  • Data storage
  • Data integration with other systems, such as web APIs, databases, or other applications that expect JSON input

Reaping the Benefits of Human-Readable JSON and EDI

EDI has been around for a long time, and it’s not going anywhere soon. But the fact of the matter is—EDI has been around for a long time, and it hasn’t changed much over the decades, which means as time and technology march onward, it needs a little more help keeping up with modern enterprise systems and business web platforms.

At GraceBlood, we’re focused on bringing tailor-made, modern EDI solutions to businesses of all shapes and sizes that combine modern advancements like JSON with EDI to realize the full potential of EDI for streamlining your supply chain and growing your business.

Have more questions about how JSON and EDI can help your company get ahead? Go ahead and ask our experts—contact us today!

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