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Value-Added Networks

To address the limitations in peer-to-peer adoption of EDI, VANs (value-added networks) were established. A VAN acts as a regional post office. It receives transactions, examines the 'from' and the 'to' information, and routes the transaction to the final recipient. VANs may provide a number of additional services, e.g. retransmitting documents, providing third party audit information, acting as a gateway for different transmission methods, and handling telecommunications support. Because of these and other services VANs provide, businesses frequently use a VAN even when both trading partners are using Internet-based protocols. Healthcare clearinghouses perform many of the same functions as a VAN, but have additional legal restrictions

VANs may be operated by various entities:

  • telecommunication companies;
  • industry group consortia;
  • a large company interacting with its suppliers/vendors.

Interpreting data

EDI translation software provides the interface between internal systems and the EDI format sent/received. For an "inbound" document the EDI solution will receive the file (either via a Value Added Network or directly using protocols such as FTP or AS2), take the received EDI file (commonly referred to as a "mailbag"), validate that the trading partner who is sending the file is a valid trading partner, that the structure of the file meets the EDI standards, and that the individual fields of information conform to the agreed upon standards. Typically the translator will either create a file of either fixed length, variable length or XML tagged format or "print" the received EDI document (for non-integrated EDI environments). The next step is to convert/transform the file that the translator creates into a format that can be imported into a company's back-end business systems or ERP. This can be accomplished by using a custom program, an integrated proprietary "mapper" or to use an integrated standards based graphical "mapper" using a standard data transformation language such as XSLT. The final step is to import the transformed file (or database) into the company's back-end enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.
For an "outbound" document the process for integrated EDI is to export a file (or read a database) from a company's back-end ERP, transform the file to the appropriate format for the translator. The translation software will then "validate" the EDI file sent to ensure that it meets the standard agreed upon by the trading partners, convert the file into "EDI" format (adding in the appropriate identifiers and control structures) and send the file to the trading partner (using the appropriate communications protocol).
Another critical component of any EDI translation software is a complete "audit" of all the steps to move business documents between trading partners. The audit ensures that any transaction (which in reality is a business document) can be tracked to ensure that they are not lost. In case of a retailer sending a Purchase Order to a supplier, if the Purchase Order is "lost" anywhere in the business process, the effect is devastating to both businesses. To the supplier, they do not fulfill the order as they have not received it thereby losing business and damaging the business relationship with their retail client. For the retailer, they have a stock outage and the effect is lost sales, reduced customer service and ultimately lower profits.
In EDI terminology "inbound" and "outbound" refer to the direction of transmission of an EDI document in relation to a particular system, not the direction of merchandise, money or other things represented by the document. For example, an EDI document that tells a warehouse to perform an outbound shipment is an inbound document in relation to the warehouse computer system. It is an outbound document in relation to the manufacturer or dealer that transmitted the document.

Advantages over paper systems

EDI and other similar technologies save a company money by providing an alternative to, or replacing, information flows that require a great deal of human interaction and paper documents. Even when paper documents are maintained in parallel with EDI exchange, e.g. printed shipping manifests, electronic exchange and the use of data from that exchange reduces the handling costs of sorting, distributing, organizing, and searching paper documents. EDI and similar technologies allow a company to take advantage of the benefits of storing and manipulating data electronically without the cost of manual entry. Another advantage of EDI is the opportunity to reduce or eliminate manual data entry errors, such as shipping and billing errors, because EDI eliminates the need to rekey documents on the destination side. One very important advantage of EDI over paper documents is the speed in which the trading partner receives and incorporates the information into their system thus greatly reducing cycle times. For this reason, EDI can be an important component of just-in-time production systems.
According to the 2008 Aberdeen report "A Comparison of Supplier Enablement around the World", only 34% of purchase orders are transmitted electronically in North America. In EMEA, 36% of orders are transmitted electronically and in APAC, 41% of orders are transmitted electronically. They also report that the average paper requisition to order costs a company $37.45 in North America, $42.90 in EMEA and $23.90 in APAC. With an EDI requisition to order costs are reduced to $23.83 in North America, $34.05 in EMEA and $14.78 in APAC.

Barriers to implementation

There are a few barriers to adopting electronic data interchange. One of the most significant barriers is the accompanying business process change. Existing business processes built around paper handling may not be suited for EDI and would require changes to accommodate automated processing of business documents. For example, a business may receive the bulk of their goods by 1 or 2 day shipping and all of their invoices by mail. The existing process may therefore assume that goods are typically received before the invoice. With EDI, the invoice will typically be sent when the goods ship and will therefore require a process that handles large numbers of invoices whose corresponding goods have not yet been received.
Another significant barrier is the cost in time and money in the initial set-up. The preliminary expenses and time that arise from the implementation, customization and training can be costly. It is important to select the correct level of integration to match the business requirement. For a business with relatively few transactions with EDI-based partners, it may make sense for businesses to implement inexpensive "rip and read" solutions, where the EDI format is printed out in human-readable form and people, rather than computers, respond to the transaction. Another alternative is outsourced EDI solutions provided by EDI "Service Bureaus". For other businesses, the implementation of an integrated EDI solution may be necessary as increases in trading volumes brought on by EDI force them to re-implement their order processing business processes.
The key hindrance to a successful implementation of EDI is the perception many businesses have of the nature of EDI. Many view EDI from the technical perspective that EDI is a data format; it would be more accurate to take the business view that EDI is a system for exch anging business documents with external entities, and integrating the data from those documents into the company's internal systems. Successful implementations of EDI take into account the effect externally generated information will have on their internal systems and validate the business information received. For example, allowing a supplier to update a retailer's Accounts Payable system without appropriate checks and balances would put the company at significant risk. Businesses new to the implementation of EDI must understand the underlying business process and apply proper judgment.

Source: wikipedia.org