EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) is a fantastic tool
that helps streamline the data flow between vendors and eliminates the need for mail, faxes, e-mails, or even manual data entry by providing a computer-to-computer data transfer for Purchase Orders, Shipment Notifications, Invoices, and more. If you have Fourth Shift, you may be aware that there is an EDI module that can help you implement EDI with your Fourth Shift environment. But while this module can help Fourth Shift manufacturers implement EDI, there are some important limitations and drawbacks that you should first be aware of to ensure that it’s the right fit for you and your organization.
What Does EDI Do For Fourth Shift?
If you’re like most Fourth Shift companies that don’t yet have a fully implemented EDI integration, you most likely have a customer support team whose job is to watch for new customer orders (either through email, fax, or even physical mail) who then enter those custom orders into Fourth Shift manually.
With a fully integrated EDI process, customer orders (along with other types of commerce-related documents) are automatically received from customers (called “trading partners” in EDI) and are then automatically entered into your Fourth Shift system – without the need for manual data entry or human intervention.
Similarly, any kind of documents you might send to your customers (such as order acknowledgments, shipping notifications, invoices, etc.) or even documents you might send to your vendors (such as purchase orders) can be sent automatically and electronically from your system to theirs – even if they aren’t running Fourth Shift.
That’s because EDI documents are often sent to and received from a third-party intermediary known as a VAN (Value Added Network). VANs sit in the middle between trading partners and help translate orders into a format that each trading partner can consume. VANs also queue up orders, so trading partners don’t miss any EDI documents in the event that their system is down.
With EDI, companies are able to truly streamline their commercial activities with their customers and vendors. Orders, acknowledgments, and even payments can be sent and received near instantly, greatly reducing the delays common in manual processing. In addition to this, companies implementing EDI not only reduce the overhead of having a dedicated customer support team for order entry purposes, but they also completely remove the human error aspect of such a setup.
When you add up the cost savings of faster turnaround times with lower labor costs and overhead, coupled with the reduction of order entry errors, EDI initiatives typically carry very large ROI numbers.
Barriers To EDI Adoption
While implementing an EDI integration can mean huge cost savings, reduced waste, and faster turnaround times, many companies still face a number of difficulties when it comes to taking EDI from idea to execution within their organizations.
Even with a “plug and play” module such as Fourth Shift’s EDI module, there are still factors and considerations that can make an EDI implementation difficult (if not non-viable).
The first issue to consider is how many of your customers and vendors (and what volume of your business they represent) currently have EDI capabilities. Because EDI requires that both trading partners have EDI capabilities (it does no good if you can accept electronic orders if your customers can’t send them), you will want to first see how many of your customers and vendors currently have EDI capabilities that are compatible with the options you are considering. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to leverage EDI, but for many smaller organizations, EDI can be too expensive of an undertaking to be viable. In some instances, the lack of EDI capabilities on your customers or vendors end may mean that EDI is not a viable option for your organization. As an alternative to this, many VANs are now offering online user interfaces that enable trading partners without native EDI capabilities to enter and receive EDI transactions, which may provide a workaround that your organization’s non-EDI customers and vendors could leverage.
The second issue that comes into play with an EDI implementation is that not everyone “does EDI” the same way. Although EDI requires that trading partners send documents in a common data format (often the ANSI X12 format), many companies appropriate and misuse fields in these data formats. For example, a company may choose to send order quantities in a field that is not intended to store order quantities. Although this may sound odd, it’s a very common occurrence in the world of EDI. This practice often requires companies to implement complex and custom mappings to properly map the data contained in an EDI document to their own system’s format. So even if you have a “plug and play” EDI module, there may be instances where you very well have to manually change mappings for specific trading partners, which can require specialized technical knowledge.
In addition to configuring mappings, there are often a number of configuration parameters and settings that must be set with EDI processing modules (such as the Fourth Shift EDI module). Some of these settings are “system-wide” settings (which affect every EDI transaction), while some of them are specific to a trading partner. In theory, configuring some settings shouldn’t be a difficult task.
But in reality, determining the proper values for some of these parameters can be daunting. That’s because most businesses rely on individuals who have developed internal heuristics for dealing with specific use cases, and translating those rules of thumb into a set of discrete, fixed business processing rules can prove to be difficult and even inflexible, depending on the use case.
Take for example a use case where a customer service representative knows that if Customer A orders 1,000 units of a particular item, that that order should be processed differently than if Customer A were to only place an order for 100 of those units. Trying to configure an EDI module to handle these rules can be difficult, and if the EDI module can’t handle such settings, impossible. Because of this, companies often need to abandon customized processing rules in favor of standardized processing rules to implement EDI processing.
Finally, you should know that even though EDI is an automated process, it still requires administration, maintenance, and ongoing monitoring to ensure that things continue to work as expected.
With respect to the Fourth Shift EDI module, there are several quirks that require specialized administration tasks and knowledge. Perhaps the biggest issue customers encounter with the Fourth Shift EDI module is that there is no user interface for alerting people about EDI processing errors. Instead, errors are written to a cryptic log file that requires manual inspection on a daily basis by someone with technical knowledge. Without this manual monitoring and intervention, trading partners may be expecting fulfillment of electronic orders that they have placed with your company that you are unaware of.
In addition to this, there can be issues with the timeliness of EDI processing with the Fourth Shift EDI module. That’s because the Fourth Shift EDI module processes EDI documents in a batch cycle that can take over eight hours to run. If this batch cycle fails for any reason, or if it takes longer than your business day to finish processing, it can mean that you miss important time windows in terms of processing orders and other time-sensitive documents.
Overcoming EDI Obstacles With Fourth Shift
So do all of these obstacles and limitations mean that you shouldn’t even try to reap the potential benefits of EDI with Fourth Shift? Or that “holy grail” business goals like real-time order integration are simply beyond your reach?
The answer, of course, is a resounding no: Many organizations that run Fourth Shift have been able to implement successful EDI integrations with their trading partners and reap numerous (and high ROI) rewards as a result of their efforts.
The key to achieving a successful outcome is to apply the best practices and lessons learned from others who have gone down the path of implementing EDI with Fourth Shift before you.
A trusted partner such an Infor Channel Partner (or even Fourth Gear) can help you understand the requirements, nuances, and trade offs when it comes to implementing EDI in your organization. Not only will they help you navigate the various considerations that will need to be made to systematize your business processes to take full advantage of EDI capabilities, but they can also help you setup and configure your EDI implementation to best serve your business needs.
Beyond The Basics
Although this article has talked about the Fourth Shift EDI module specifically, you may also be interested to know that there are other, non-Fourth Shift branded EDI solutions for Fourth Shift that lend themselves to be more configurable, better customized, and easier to administer and maintain. Depending on the needs of your organization, such an option may be a better fit than the legacy Fourth Shift offering. At Fourth Gear, we’ve helped a number of Fourth Shift customers implement solutions just like this based on their business requirements.
If you’re interested to learn more about what Fourth Gear can do to help you and your organization implement and get the most out of your EDI solution, please contact us through the contact box below: