Peter Thomas Managing Director of AdvanceFirst Technologies one of the UK’s most successful EDI software and service providers, is interviewed by Sadie Oliver of Internet PR Specialists SO-Inspired about the fact that despite its premature demise as predicted during the Internet revolution, EDI technology has adapted with the times, is still growing in strength, and now delivers a far greater range of benefits than when the technology was originally introduced back in the 1980’s.
SO – Tell me Peter why were you so keen to talk about the changing face of EDI when I first approached you?
PT – EDI has evolved tremendously over the years and is used now more widely than ever before. I think it is important that people realise it is far from a legacy technology but is still very much at the cutting edge of modern electronic commerce practices, and now underpins the supply-chains of most major businesses around the world.
SO – What do you think the most prominent changes to EDI Technology have been and how have these come about?
PT – Well going back in time about 20 years or more, EDI was very much in its infancy and more often than not it received prominent Board level attention because it was seen as a new and a strategically important technology. Companies very much focused on their Pareto of trading partners (the 20% of their suppliers or customers that generated 80% of their business transactions) as this is where they saw the most significant and easily achievable benefits. Very often the implementation of EDI would go no further then the exchange of Orders and Invoices directly between trading partner systems via an expensive EDI VAN such as Tradanet in the UK.
Today EDI is an accepted and required technology for the exchange of structured business documentation. Very little trade is undertaken without the electronic exchange of these documents as it vastly improves the speed and flow of information up and down the supply chain allowing the complete supply chain to operate far more effectively in satisfying ever changing consumer demands.
Whilst it is fundamentally good that all supply chains become more effective. EDI did almost become a victim of its own success.
SO – Why do you say this?
PT – Well the moment it became an essential and accepted technology, it lost the focus of senior managers and Directors. It in effect was put down to an operational level and no longer got the focus it should have received.
This position was fuelled by supposed thought leadership companies who predicted imminent death of EDI technology due to the arrival of the Internet age. This like many other predictions never came to fruition. In fact quite the opposite happened.
SO – What do you think was the effect of the Internet age on EDI technology?
PT – It had a profound effect in that new technologies sprung up to take advantage of the existence of the Internet. New protocols such as AS2 enabled secure system to system exchange of EDI documents via freely available networks such as the Internet. Our own system AMMX (Advance Managed message eXchange) even outdates AS2 enabling documents to be exchanged securely utilising two outbound firewall sessions.
New methods of EDI emerged such as Advance Web Trader and other similar systems which allow smaller companies to undertake EDI with just a PC or Laptop and a browser. Orders are sent into a suppliers secure mailbox. The suppliers go into their mailboxes and download their orders, whilst also generating invoices, credit notes and ASN’s (Advance Shipping Notifications) to name but a few documents.
Full cycle Purchase to Pay (P2P) systems have now been implemented across a number of industry sectors where know paper documents are exchanged in the complete P2P cycle.
In short new technologies have emerged which made it faster, better, cheaper, simpler and safer to exchange EDI documentation than had previously been possible.
EDI software solutions like our ABC suite have allowed companies to migrate their EDI applications away from the core internal systems onto Intel platforms, isolating the translation and communication environments on a single smaller but more effective system. EDI is now much easier to manage.
Significantly these allowed companies to look more closely at how they could move away from their Pareto of trading partners and seriously consider doing EDI with the remainder of the companies they trade with. For many of these companies operating on paper based systems was becoming increasingly costly and inefficient. These systems can easily be replaced by far cheaper and more efficient technologies these days.
The new technologies opened the door to a host of additional benefits. For example AdvanceFirst’s TBI (Transactional Business Intelligence) system will analyse all transactional data to or from a company and produce a dashboard which will measure performance against up to 15 KPI’s. All this without involving any expensive integration to a client’s internal ERP system.
Most importantly these technologies put EDI back on the agenda of many Board Meetings.
SO – Good news I presume? What has been the effect of this?
PT – EDI and its associated technologies now get more visibility within the business and the ability to isolate EDI as a function means that it has become a prime target for outsourcing.
With more and more companies expanding their use of EDI both via multiple communication routes and by multiple EDI standards and document types utilised, the days of a one man EDI department are now well and truly behind us and companies are (and should) be considering moving their EDI to a managed service environment, with all the significant benefits that brings.
SO – Can you outline a few of these benefits?
PT – Of course, although there are many reasons why it makes sense to move your EDI to a managed service platform such as AMOS (Advance Managed Outsourced Solutions) service. I will list just a few here…
- 24 x7 fully resilient EDI service.
- A pool of EDI specialists to become, in effect, your EDI department.
- Removes the need for a lot of expensive internal systems integration.
- One single monthly fee to make budgeting easy
- No need for internal holiday cover
- Become easier for your customers and suppliers to do business with
- Be faster and more responsive to their demands (even pro-active)
- No need to invest in primary and secondary EDI machines
- Improve control and visibility of your EDI in an outsourced environment
I think that is enough to go on with, but suffice to say that EDI has changed significantly for the better over the last 20 years and will continue to provide significant benefits to all businesses in all market sectors for many years to come.