Successful projects begin with a plan. For EDI projects, businesses should review their existing operations before conducting a strategic evaluation of EDI capabilities. Many organizations look to EDI to automate business processes or meet partner requirements, but they do not see it as an enterprise-wide business solution. Instead, they deploy EDI in silos where accounting handles invoicing and procurement deals with purchase orders.
The first step of EDI integration should be to assess existing processes to determine how operations can be improved. It’s not just automating a process or reducing errors, although those are primary benefits. The evaluation should focus on the business objective. For example, is cash flow a problem? Is the business experiencing delays in receiving critical components? If so, those factors should be part of the planning process.
Once the assessment is complete, the integration process begins. The following sections outline the steps needed for a successful EDI implementation.
EDI Integration with Business Applications
EDI systems must integrate with existing applications if businesses are to realize EDI benefits. That means identifying the data needed by business partners and where the information is located internally. The process requires:
- Extracting data. The data sources must be identified at the field level so the EDI solution knows precisely where the information is.
- Transforming data. Data may not be in a consistent format, which requires the data to be “transformed” before it can be used.
- Loading data. Clean data is then loaded for centralized access.
Sometimes, unique or custom interfaces are required to meet the needs of multiple business partners. However, this EDI integration step often presents opportunities to restructure internal processes for greater efficiencies.
Integrate EDI Across an Enterprise
Analyzing each business system ensures data integrity across an enterprise. For example, the accounting and purchasing systems may share data such as company names and internal identification numbers, but in different formats. Whenever possible, duplicate data should be eliminated, so there is a single source of truth, although sometimes that may not be possible.
In those instances, a specific data field or key may be identified to help data integration. Keys may be data fields such as customer number, customer ID, or industry code. Whatever the process, ensuring data accuracy is crucial to a successful implementation. Once the data structures are defined, it’s time to start mapping the data.
Begin Data Mapping
Mapping involves taking the data from business systems and correlating the information to the corresponding EDI data fields. To avoid custom interfaces, many EDI solutions move the internal data into an intermediate storage location. The software accesses the intermediate storage to create the appropriate structure for an outgoing message. This configuration can minimize the need for custom interfaces.
Accurate data mapping is essential for a successful EDI project. If data is moved from an internal location to an incorrect field in the outgoing message, the transaction will fail. Although every effort is made to ensure accurate mapping, errors can happen, which is why having a pilot project is recommended.
Conduct a Pilot Project
Pilot projects are essential for effective EDI integration. Given the scope and complexity of an enterprise-wide implementation, starting with a single business partner reduces time delays should a problem occur. With a single endpoint, problems can be quickly identified and corrected. Internally, the system can be refined to maximize benefits.
For example, a pilot may focus on purchase orders. Purchase orders are sent to a select number of companies using the same interface. The messages can be checked to ensure that the data mapping is correct. The participating companies return messages to ensure that the data can be extracted and delivered to the appropriate internal endpoints.
Internal evaluation should answer questions such as the following:
- Are controls in place?
- Is the system meeting business objectives?
- Are internal processes operating at an acceptable level?
- Does the infrastructure support the traffic load?
Once test messages are working, the solution can be moved into production, and a pilot for another EDI document exchange can begin. Paper-based processes operate in parallel to EDI systems until the software is moved into production.
Organizations looking to integrate an EDI solution into their enterprise may find the process challenging, given the number of variables involved. Our GraceBlood experts are ready to speak with you about EDI integration. Why not schedule a consultation today?
Do you still have questions about the wide world of EDI? Find the answers in our free eBook: EDI Implementation Made Simple