The Do's and Don'ts of Successful EDI Operations (Getting Started)

Mike Winsor

June 06, 2022

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)—exchanging business information electronically, rather than passing paper documents back and forth—is a fundamental means of communication for organizations that execute a high volume of transactions. For instance, retailers, manufacturers, insurers, healthcare providers, and transportation companies use EDI daily to communicate critical business information with trading partners, customers, and electronic marketplaces. Because the information is transferred in a standardized format, EDI ensures more accurate and timely communications between partners.

Sounds straightforward, right?

For the most part, it is. However, there are still areas where organizations can go wrong when setting up their EDI. Speaking from 25 years of experience in the field, here are some of my top tips for ensuring success as you begin your EDI implementation journey.

1. Do have a clear plan of what you want to accomplish with EDI

The goal might be to digitize all business communications at some point, but I suggest starting small and implementing EDI one piece at a time. More than “communicate information,” pinpoint what type of data would be most valuable to exchange electronically. For instance, if your company is losing customers due to lack of visibility into the order delivery process, ask your shipping partner to provide an EDI document that shows delivery status. You can then translate the EDI to human-readable information for your Customer Service team, so they no longer waste time hunting it down manually on the shipper’s web portal. Harnessing EDI to help one team and getting a “win” is a sure way to build momentum.

2. Don’t make that plan overly complex

A simple EDI process that works every time is more useful than a complex one that’s unreliable. Because of how critical it will become to daily operations, you want EDI to be as simple as turning on the lights. For example, when you flip the switch to get started, you need it to turn on automatically.

To that end, new isn’t always better. Once you establish the EDI flow and tooling that works for your organization, you don’t need to constantly innovate with the latest bells and whistles to stay competitive. Since its introduction in the 1970s, EDI has stood the test of time by getting the job done. Conserve resources and employee bandwidth by being selective in how you choose to modernize your EDI flow. If major EDI enablers such as Amazon or Wal-Mart are asking you to do something, it’s probably a safe bet. During the early 2000’s when the .com boom was going on and XML was all the rage, if I threw out my EDI setup for XML only, I would probably not be writing this today.

3. Do have a contingency plan for unforeseen events

If the past few years has shown us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Business priorities can and do change quickly, which is why your EDI plans need to be flexible. Do you still need an EDI solution if we are in the middle of a pandemic? I’m sure my fellow EDI veterans will agree that remote work and new e-commerce models only increased the importance of EDI processes. A flexible and scalable EDI solution is the foundation of a contingency plan so you’re ready when asked to do things more quickly with fewer resources.

4. Do cross train your team

Even if you’ve established a straightforward EDI flow, the simplest system is still complex to those who are not familiar with it. For seamless EDI, you need to make sure everyone on your team understands your chosen system—its capabilities, what specific data it holds, which partners it’s used to communicate with—even if their role isn’t EDI specialist. Try to talk to your staff in terminology that they understand; it gives everyone a great reference point. Save the IT jargon for the CIO. Cross train employees on how to keep the EDI running, since every now and then someone wants to go on vacation or take time off. If your business doesn’t have the bandwidth to train more than one person on how EDI functions, consider outsourcing your EDI to a third party. (Inserting shameless plug for Rocket EDX here.)

5. Do have a sense of humor

There’s bound to be a learning curve with every new EDI request or project. As you work to establish EDI at your organization, the best thing you can do is go into it with a positive attitude, even if your information doesn’t flow seamlessly at first. Rigidity and frustration will only lead to more errors and slowed progress. I’ve accomplished a lot more with partners using humor than anger or frustration. This probably applies to other areas in business and life as well. (Except those EDI Trading Partners that are staffed by robots. They know who they are.)

If you’re considering implementing EDI at your organization—or looking to strengthen existing EDI flows—learn more about how Rocket Software can help.