Introduction to EDI - A Primer


This section will review broadly the various types of "tools" required to implement EDI in a business. Since the range of software, hardware and service providers is extensive, a discussion of these areas can only provide the reader with an appreciation of the major standards, hardware, software, and communication options that may be open to them, or from which choices may be made.



The need for definition of and adherence to standards is paramount in assuring successful EDI. Without an agreed upon set of standards, EDI would be unworkable from the start. There is a comprehensive set of public standards that define the syntactical requirements for a wide variety of EDI transaction types, so that virtually any business need can be addressed within the guidelines of an internationally accepted set of standards.



Obviously, EDI cannot be undertaken without software, or a service that will provide for the use of the software. For EDI users, there is a broad range of options available, whether for low-cost first-time implementation or for the integration of EDI into a comprehensive portfolio of existing software.

This review will be directed largely towards the options available for EDI translation software. It will provide a broad overview of the software options a business might wish to consider as they introduce new or enhance existing EDI capabilities. A discussion of options or requirements for software to collect data internally is outside the scope of this study.



Before the widespread availability and acceptance of PC's and UNIX workstations, companies were pretty much bound by their existing proprietary hardware base. This dictated that EDI be implemented on whatever hardware was available and choice of software was severely limited by hardware options. If the company operated on a hardware platform for which many software packages could be obtained, there was little problem in finding an acceptable EDI solution.

However, if the hardware was old or manufactured by a company with small market presence, it could very well mean that no EDI software could be found that would run on the system. The alternatives in this situation were fairly well limited to in-house development for the existing platform, or acquisition of different hardware, with all the attendant problems of inter-operability between two different proprietary systems. Value-Added Networks can also be of assistance with this problem, since some offer all the features of EDI software 'on the network' by using their own computers to provide the EDI software. In this case it is only necessary to gain access to the VAN via standard communications software and allow the VAN to do all the EDI functions and translation.

Fortunately the options are considerably more flexible today. EDI options can be found for the complete spectrum of hardware, from small PC's to large mainframes. Because of the relatively low cost of implementing PC or workstation solutions, hardware options no longer constrain selection of software. In fact, it is difficult to discuss hardware options without considering software, as the reader will see from the following discussion.



The last major component of the EDI tool set is communication capability. This aspect of EDI has evolved from one of the most unmanageable and complex to one of the easiest to cope with. Where the EDI trading partner is faced with too many choices in the areas of software and hardware, the evolution of the "Value-Added Network" or VAN service industry has greatly simplified the range of reasonable choices for telecommunications options and other Electronic Commerce capabilities.

 Early pioneers in EDI were faced with technically complicated and costly choices when it came to communicating their trading partners. So early use of EDI tended to be within rather than between companies, and was limited to those who could afford to develop and maintain extensive internal electronic networks.



For a large manufacturer, their vendor base will surely range from large corporations with sophisticated application systems, to small "mom-and-pop shops" with only a modem and a PC. The vendor with a highly automated process may process the information directly into their applications and act upon it without intervention. The small business may do little more than print reports. In either case, and regardless of the scale, EDI can be successfully implemented. The final step in the process may be to transmit an acknowledgment transaction back to the vendor to close the loop.

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