Your EDI Resource

Evolution of Data and the Data Engineer

Posted by Shandra Locken on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 @ 08:30 AM

bigstock-Business-Team-Discussion-Team--119237426-1This blog is being reprinted with permission from OpenText + Liaison Technologies.  Article was written by Ehi Binitie. In the age of big data, most people understand the importance of gathering and using data to make decisions, drive business processes and understand what is happening throughout the entire enterprise. They know that people with very specific skills are essential to effectively capturing, managing and analyzing data for use, but the roles within the data team are not well understood – especially mine.

I am a data engineer. I work mostly behind the scenes to design and build the objects on the integration platform that house the data that must be captured, stored and made accessible to users. The architecture that I develop allows data analysts to access information in specific ways to analyze, create reports and provide insights that are used to drive business decisions. Simply described – data engineers are the designers, builders and managers of the information or “big data” infrastructure.

The role of data engineer has changed over the years. Before cloud computing was widely adopted as a solution for integration, information was housed in data warehouses that were difficult, time-consuming and expensive to expand when the business’ data needs changed. That began to change in the late 1990s when the concept of cloud computing expanded.

I joined Liaison, now part of OpenText, 14 years ago and was excited to be part of an innovative approach to data integration and management. By offering a cloud-based integration platform and a team of data experts to build and manage the service, we were offering a scalability and flexibility that met the data management challenges faced by our customers. Our capabilities to provide the same flexibility have expanded as we use new tools to manage the growing number of complex data sources.

One change that I’ve noticed is acceptance of “the cloud.” When Liaison first approached companies, there was a concern about the ease of accessing data once it moved offsite, the security of data and the reliability of the concept. Today, the cloud is part of everyone’s life, so these concerns no longer keep companies from looking at a cloud-based platform for their needs.

Another significant change in the way that data is viewed is the move from data-driven to data-centric. When I build a data-centric architecture, I can assure the business that the data will always be there in one location for multiple, task-specific applications to access. Applications can come and go as needed, but the data is always there. This future-proofs the company’s investment in the platform by providing the opportunity to add new capabilities as needed, without investing in a new way to collect or manage data.

Data engineers build the pipelines that transform and connect data from a myriad of sources – sensors, connected devices, social media and legacy systems – and ensure that the data is available in real- or near real-time to support insights that enable companies to effectively compete in their industry. Of course, we don’t just support the collection of data – we make sure that all users can access it regardless of the department, geographical location or application they are using to perform their analysis.

While all members of the data team are critical (in fact, I often say that data science is a team sport), I am biased toward my role.  Data engineers make sure that information is always available in whatever format to any user to help the company be competitive and successful.

Why not contact GraceBlood and find out about our Managed Services approach to "cloud" EDI services, as well as a new EDI visibility tool?  We work behind the scenes to allow you to do what you do best to maintain and build your competitive advantage without getting bogged down in the intricacies of day-to-day EDI.

Click below for a free consultation.

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Tags: cloud, liaison technologies, big data analytics, data transformation, Managed Services

The Cloud Crowd

Posted by David McAlister on Fri, Dec 01, 2017 @ 05:14 PM

bigstock-cables-connected-to-cloud-6459096.jpgEnjoying a beer at my favorite brewery over the holidays, my neighbor at the bar told me that Amazon's largest revenue comes from their server space rentals.  Who knew???  As consumers we have our eyes on all the products that they sell these days. There are actually people out there who buy virtually everything from the retail giant, from diapers to Xbox.  How nice is it as consumers to order something Thursday night after talking to someone at a Thanksgiving dinner and have it on our door step Saturday?  I have since learned that Amazon has been busy offering cloud services for more than a decade!

In 2006, Amazon launched their Web Services S3 offering.  Wikipedia reports, "Amazon S3 provides storage through web services interfaces (REST, SOAP, and BitTorrent).  Amazon S3 is reported to store more than 2 trillion objects as of April 2013.  S3 uses include web hosting, image hosting, and storage for backup systems.  S3 guarantees 99.9% monthly uptime service-level agreement.” 

At the same time Amazon also launched Amazon Web Services (AWS). Wikipedia describes it as, "…a subsidiary of that provides on-demand cloud computing platforms to individuals, companies and governments, on a paid subscription basis with a free-tier option available for 12 months.  The technology allows subscribers to have at their disposal a full-fledged virtual cluster of computers, available all the time, through the internet."

And if that wasn't enough there is Amazon Marketplace Web Service (Amazon MWS). Described by Amazon as, "…an integrated web service API that helps Amazon sellers to programmatically exchange data on listings, orders, payments, reports, and more.  Data integration with Amazon enables high levels of selling automation, which can help sellers grow their business.  By using Amazon MWS, sellers can increase selling efficiency, reduce labor requirements, and improve response time to customers.”

While Amazon continues to dominate the online world, they have now stepped into the brick and mortal retail space by acquiring Whole Foods Market and this last summer also opened their first brick and mortar Amazon store in NYC, The Shops at Columbus Circle.  Go figure!  Then there is Walmart who rules the brick and mortal retail environment. Walmart just bought to bolster their online world by trying to offer something similar to Amazon Prime.  Furthermore, Walmart has been offering online sales from many retailers, including Wayfair and Hayneedle for some time now. The race is on for the consumers’ business on both fronts.

The list goes on to put pressure on the organization to integrate - Salesforce, social media, Shopify, etc.  Just when it was a lot to integrate with EDI, APIs are becoming common place in the market.

Thanks to our choice to integrate with ECS and Delta - a Liaison Small Medium Business (SMB) Enterprise Integration Suite, we take integration seriously.  Regardless of whether it is application to application disparate systems (A2A), Application to Web (A2W) or Business to Business (B2B), yes EDI, we proudly are glad to show off our toolbox to support clients in all their enterprise integration requirements.  Then when you bust out and cannot support your integration on one server, ECS/Delta can load balance between servers.

The day has come where IT needs to support internal and external requirements with an increasing speed of agility.  Whether it is ECS/Delta, Liaison Alloy, Amazon or any other cloud crowd, we are there to make your life easier and ready to serve you in this increasingly complex and competitive environment.  Get started by contacting us for a consultation!

Click below to read about how we helped move their EDI operations to the next level.

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Tags: cloud, amazon, web services, Integration

What is HIPAA?  Complying and Reducing the Burden

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 @ 04:12 PM

asg_Bgip4AJNHEgV5Oxp2Fart_J2wW7etzgwOX4zC32F1492637205344-iStock-650097548.jpgReprinted with permission from Liaison Technolgies.  Written by Hmong Vang, Chief Trust Officer for Liaison Technologes.  The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was an amendment to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.  And while it was enacted primarily to ensure portability and continuity of health insurance coverage and improving the exchange of health information electronically, it also was intended to protect a patient’s protected health information (PHI) which includes health status or condition, medical history, insurance coverage, payment for health care, and other data that a healthcare provider or other covered entities collect in order to provide the proper care.

Signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, the act contains five key sections that cover: policies for health insurance coverage (Title I), compliance requirements for processing electronic healthcare transactions and implementing secure access to data (Title II), guidelines for taxation and medical care (Title III), rules for defining health insurance reforms (Title IV), and provisions for life insurance policies owned by companies (Title V).

For health care providers, insurance companies, and businesses that support health systems and providers, HIPAA compliance largely pertains to adhering to the standards and guidelines defined in Title II. This post focuses on understanding the basics of HIPAA compliance and how to reduce the burden of complying with the guidelines defined in Title II.

HIPAA Isn’t Only for Doctors and their Patients

HIPAA and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provide a clear definition of covered entities and business associates that need to comply with HIPAA rules. HIPAA defines a covered entity as one of the following:

  • A Health Care Provider including doctors, clinics, psychologists, dentists, chiropractors, nursing homes, medical laboratories or pharmacies that are transmitting patients’ PHI electronically.
  • A Health Plan Provider such as health insurance companies, health maintenance organizations (HMO), companies providing health plans, and government entities paying for health care.
  • A Health Care Clearinghouse that processes nonstandard PHI into standardized electronic formats or vice versa.

Business associates are individuals or entities that assist covered entities in carrying out healthcare functions and activities. Vendors that transmit, process and/or store PHI on behalf of a covered entity or business associate are also bound to abide by HIPAA rules.

Understanding HIPAA Rules

Title II of HIPAA includes five key rules or standards which covered entities and business associates are required to comply with:

Privacy Rule. The Privacy Rule aims to protect patients’ rights to their PHI. These rights include allowing patients to examine, obtain copies of, and request corrections of their PHI. The Privacy Rule also requires covered entities to establish safeguards to protect patients’ PHI and also sets guidelines on when PHI may be used or disclosed without the patients’ authorization. Other administrative requirements laid out by the Privacy Rule includes appointing a privacy official at a covered entity, training employees on privacy policies and procedures, establishing and maintaining technical and physical safeguards to protect PHI, and creating processes that will handle patient complaints. Finally, the Privacy Rule establishes the penalties that covered entities will incur in case of a data breach.

Security Rule. The Security Rule specifies the required safeguards that need to be in place to protect patients’ electronic protected health information (ePHI). It requires covered entities and business associates to establish administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to maintain the integrity, confidentiality, and security of ePHI. Specifically, covered entities and business associates must: identify the sources of ePHI and PHI, including those that they create, receive, process, transmit, or maintain; perform regular risk assessments related to the protection of ePHI; and ensure organizational compliance through administrative safeguards. Like the Privacy Rule, the Security Rule also aims to protect patients from unauthorized, unreasonable, and impermissible use of their ePHI and PHI. While the Security Rule does not lay out specific guidelines on technical specifications, costs, and complexity of security measures, it requires covered entities and business associates to take them into consideration. Finally, the Security Rule requires covered entities and business associates to regularly review and adapt their security measures to evolving risks.

Enforcement Rule. This rule sets out the authority of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to enforce the Privacy and Security rules and to impose penalties in cases of violations or noncompliance. The OCR follows a three-step Enforcement Process: investigation of complaints, conducting compliance reviews, and fostering compliance through education and outreach programs. See the HHS website, where the OCR lists the most common and frequent compliance issues investigated since 2003. They include: impermissible uses and disclosures of PHI; lack of safeguards of PHI; lack of patient access to their PHI; use or disclosure of more than the minimum necessary PHI; and lack of administrative safeguards of ePHI.

Breach Notification Rule. HIPAA requires covered entities and business associates to notify affected individuals, the HHS, and the media, in more severe cases, following a breach of unsecured PHI. A breach is defined as an impermissible use or disclosure of PHI. Under the rule, covered entities and business associates must provide notifications to individuals affected by the breach without unreasonable delay and no later than 60 days from the discovery of the breach. Individual notifications must include a description of the breach and descriptions of the medical information compromised, the suggested actions individuals should take to prevent further harm, the steps the covered entity are taking to investigate the breach, minimize adverse effects, and prevent further breaches, and how individuals can contact the covered entities. For breaches involving over 500 individuals in a jurisdiction, covered entities are also required to notify prominent media outlets in the jurisdiction.

Omnibus Rule of 2013. In 2013, the HHS created the HIPAA Omnibus Rule to implement modifications to HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Enforcement Rules under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. The Omnibus Rule implemented extensive changes to HIPAA, including: requirements to strengthen the privacy and security of PHI; introducing objective guidelines for a covered entity’s liability in case of a breach; defining the steps in enforcing the Security and Privacy Rules for the OCR; holding business associates to higher standards as covered entities; and increasing the penalties for violations and/or noncompliance of the HIPAA, up to a maximum of $1.5 million per violation.

Reducing the Burden of HIPAA Compliance

The scope of HIPAA is extensive and compliance can be overwhelming for covered entities and business associates. Not only do covered entities face huge upfront costs to assess and meet governing compliance standards,  but business associates and vendors supporting them need to factor this into their budgets as well.

As in most budget planning efforts, upfront costs are usually anticipated and forecasted, but many organizations underestimate the cost of maintaining compliance, which can reach hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars as enterprises struggle to keep up with ever-changing regulations and technologthat require ongoing investments.

Considering the huge cost of compliance (and non-compliance), forward thinking organizations align as many data initiatives as possible in support of compliance.  If data integration operations are managed in-house, then all the compliance costs, burdens, and liabilities mentioned above also fall squarely the covered entity or business association, or even their vendors. Every new application, EMR platform, or change in data configuration must be accounted for the compliance strategy—no easy feat when both the amount of data and number of applications organizations must deal with are growing exponentially.

An alternative that can reduce some of this burden is data integration and management as a managed service through a third-party integration provider that follows a Trust Framework. Now the burdens of compliance, along with the growing integration complexities and staffing challenges, are being managed by a trusted partner. As new data sources are added and integrated, that same level of compliance and security is applied to all. Leveraging a cloud-based managed services platform, offloads much of the people, processes and technology compliance to the third-party.

Vendors and HIPAA Compliance

Vendors supporting covered entities and business associates, must take HIPAA compliance seriously. As more applications, operations and PHI data move to cloud-based software and platforms, entities that are bound by HIPAA rules need to be sure they are entrusting their business operations and PHI to business partners that are continuously compliant. Cloud-based platforms that offer complex integration, data transformation and harmonization in a managed services model not only offer healthcare customers the ability to scale, integration expertise, and efficiency that compliments their IT operations, but they also supplement compliance by ensuring the people, processes, and technologies are adhering to these requirements.

How are you managing the compliance burden?  Click below to read about the unique challenges the pharmaceutical industry faces and how to solve them.

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Tags: cloud, cloud computing, SaaS, HIPAA, data integration, data security, Managed Services

Liaison's Alloy: Cloud Services Redefined

Posted by David McAlister on Mon, Apr 17, 2017 @ 09:05 PM

72758628_16e3e0eb24_m.jpgPhoto appears courtesy of Jason Pratt. Like everything in life, products evolve and services continue to be improved and refined.  Liaison is always on the cutting edge and their Alloy managed services is no exception.  As our phones have evolved into watches, calendars, alarm clocks and many other things, Alloy has done the same for data integration.  According to Ovum ICT Enterprise Insights 2016, Ovum places Liaison as one of the strongest players with state-of-the-art cloud solutions poised for growth in the near future.  This Ovum survey states that only a 1/4 of companies (excluding small companies) have strategic long term investments in their B2B integrations.  Liaison’s efforts with Alloy have served to provide a white glove, top-notch service to support Cloud computing with a unified platform and end-to-end compliance.

Alloy is an integration and data managed service (or SaaS) platform able to satisfy any Cloud or on-premise solution regardless of being legacy.  According to Ovum’s estimates, "resource-related costs can account for up to 60% of the total cost of ownership (TCO) for a legacy EDI solution.”  Alloy not only provides a communication hub, but can accept and send any format such as XML, JSON, Soap Rest or EDI.  Furthermore, Alloy is a more cost effective solution over SAP’s PI and Tibco.  Companies like IBM or Mule Soft typically don’t know the other side when it comes to integrating and each solution has their own proprietary technology.  In plain English, no one is speaking the same language.  Liaison, with their outstanding resources, are able to provide technical expertise in all these areas.  Alloy provides secure and compliant connectivity from one system to the next using a technology agnostic solution that is data centric.  Security within Alloy is bar none in the industry to support tedious HIPAA and PII (personally identifiable information) requirements.  With all that on top of Liaison’s white-glove support service, you will find Alloy to be your solution of choice.

For many of us it is time to send that old alarm clock or calculator to Goodwill and make the move to Alloy.  Don’t take my word for it.  Do your own research by reviewing Ovum's Market Landscape:  B2B Integration Managed Services Providers, 2016-2017.   Liaison’s Alloy is the only provider in the survey that met 100 percent criteria in all categories of review:  Core Integration and Associated Capabilities, Trading Partner Community Management, Monitoring and Analytics, Service Delivery and Management, and Deployment Flexibility and Security Capabilities.

Take a few moments and review Alloy at these links:

And reach out to us as Authorized Solutions Integrators (ASI’s) to guide you through the process of coming into the new age of technology using Alloy.

Click below to read a whitepaper on what getting data integration right can do for your business.

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Tags: cloud, cloud computing, data integration, ERP integration, SaaS, Managed Services

Aurora EDI Alliance Biography Series: GraceBlood

Posted by Shandra Locken on Wed, Mar 29, 2017 @ 02:25 PM

forBlog.jpgLast but certainly not least in our Biography Series is GraceBlood LLC, which is composed of the dynamic team of AMY Grace and Karen Blood.  Busy ladies they are, but we were finally able to get their story.  AMY (yes, it’s capitalized because it’s her initials) Grace and Karen Blood started working together in 1997 and created GraceBlood LLC in 2003. Coming from different professional backgrounds, they merged their skills and experiences to form a company focused specifically on integrated EDI and B2B managed services.

AMY was an English major who got involved, via IBM, with computer programming after college. With an interest in medicine, she worked for many years in Baltimore for the University of Maryland Department of Epidemiology doing database development and statistical analysis in clinical trial research. Her group served as the coordinating center for multiple long-term drug trials, many funded by NIH (National Institutes of Health), in areas including cardiology, diabetes, retinopathy, Raynaud’s, and more. They designed data collection forms, collected patient data from multiple clinical centers and analyzed it for eventual publication in professional journals. She took a hiatus for five years when her children were born but returned to the same career path for the next twenty years.

Karen, an inveterate serial entrepreneur, started her first business in 1979 while studying Computer Science at the University of Maryland. Specializing in microcomputer systems for small business, by the late 1980s the company was focused on software solutions for distributors and manufacturers. It was the 1990s when her customers began to experience increasing demand for EDI trading. Filling that demand, the company developed an expertise that led to it becoming the preferred provider for all things EDI for one of the nation’s leading distribution software developers. The practice grew, and Karen recruited AMY to join the company.

AMY was flattered, somewhat ready for a career change, but freely admitted that she knew nothing about the supply chain let alone Electronic Data Interchange. Like so many of us, her first question was, “What is EDI?”  Our most popular blog is about that very question.

The learning curve was steep but the incentive to succeed was strong because the built-in customer base was ready. Together, AMY and Karen developed a strong consulting practice focused on delivering integrated EDI dovetailing with their customers’ ERP systems.

Soon Karen started another company, New Blood Inc., providing web services to help wholesalers cope with the Internet. A few years later Karen had an opportunity to sell the first company, and as she did so, she kept the EDI consulting practice and rolled it over with AMY to create GraceBlood LLC. Purely focused on B2B, GraceBlood delivers services and systems for the supply chain to trade business documents electronically. She later sold NewBlood to focus exclusively on building GraceBlood.

The vision of GraceBlood has remained the same while the company has grown greatly: to allow clients to strategically embrace B2B and to enthusiastically say “Yes!” when presented with new challenges in their trading partner relationships. The company’s motto is “We speak EDI so you don’t have to.”

Headquartered in Delaware, the company’s supply-chain tested, home-based associates work from Texas, Virginia, Illinois and Maryland. Karen’s brother, Brian, an experienced IT industry veteran, has recently joined the company as a partner and handles day to day operations while Karen focuses on new business development. Hundreds of thousands of transactions for B2B trading are handled by GraceBlood Managed Services in the cloud with servers located on both coasts, while clients are based all over North America.

In their personal lives, AMY and Karen are close with their extended family. AMY’s adult children (son a Director at PayPal and daughter a judge) have provided the couple with four grandchildren, three are now teenagers. Karen’s siblings have spawned eleven nieces and nephews ranging in age from 10 to 30 and one great nephew (another on the way.)

They have many interests and hobbies especially adventure travel; last year they went on a National Geographic trip to Antarctica (see pic above), a dive trip to Cuba, and a driving tour of Iceland. Karen is a nationally ranked Scrabble player and enjoys scuba diving, fly fishing, women’s basketball, and all outdoor activities. AMY is a reader, a gardener, a film reviewer, a political/community activist and dabbles in memoir writing.

Celebrating thirty years together, they are looking forward to thirty more years of collaboration and adventure.  

Click below to read a case stufy on how Wayfair moved their EDI operations to the next level.

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Tags: cloud, data integration, e-commerce, EDI Consultant, EDI provider, supply chain

5 Data Trends That Will Dominate 2017

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 @ 08:30 AM

iStock-481074248.jpgBlog and photo reposted with permission from Liaison Technologies.  2016 has been an exciting year for the enterprise cloud sector. Data has become a business currency, and the world’s leading organizations continue to propel data collection and usage with their use of specialized apps in the professional realm. A couple of years ago, Baseline reported that for a typical Fortune 1000 company, just a 10% increase in data accessibility would result in more than $65 million additional net income. Since then, it’s been up to data professionals to tackle the challenge of turning data accessibility into a viable and sustainable benefit for their organizations.

Now that data accessibility is more manageable through lightweight protocols and robust APIs, it’s becoming increasingly crucial to turn the myriad of information from disparate sources and formats into actionable insights. In the coming year, integration and data management must adjust to meet growing volumes of data. IT professionals need to find a new way forward to support enterprise infrastructure and maximize the potential benefits of having improved access to data. To help with this goal, here are five trends on the horizon for enterprise organizations in 2017 and beyond:

  1. Outsourcing of labor-intensive integration: Enterprises are finding that labor-intensive integration jobs rob internal teams of time that could be spent on more strategic tasks. In fact, Gartner says through 2018, 90% of organizations will lack a postmodern application integration strategy.* To combat this, expect to see more organizations outsourcing integration and data management in 2017 in an effort to prioritize more strategic tasks.
  1. Bridging a path to the cloud: In early 2016, IDC reported that spending on infrastructure to run public and private clouds “continues to grow at leaps and bounds as spending on non-cloud infrastructure decreases,” according to Network World. As more and more companies head to the cloud, enterprises that have invested tens of millions of dollars in legacy systems to handle vital functions of their businesses will be seeking solutions that preserve these investments while bridging a path to the cloud.
  1. Making the IT environment data-centric: Enterprise organizations deploy hundreds of apps that produce unimaginable amounts of data. To make sense of all this data, organizations must find ways to ignore the noise of so many disparate applications, and instead focus on producing bodies of consolidated data that can exist as application-agnostic entities. In 2016, we’ve seen a growing number of businesses turn to our ALLOY platform to accomplish this, and this number is only expected to increase in the coming year.
  1. Acceleration of insights thanks to synergy of data operations: Enterprises will realize the value of synergies established when they deploy a single integration and data management solution. Synergies between integration and data management will eliminate operational redundancies, improve governance, and allow the enterprise to tackle more advanced data use cases.
  1. iPaaS will evolve. iPaaS (Integration Platform as a Service), despite a recent surge in adoption for those needing to supplement their on-premises middleware with cloud integration capabilities, will not stand the test of time. It will need to mature in ways that offer enterprises improved compliance, data management, governance, and integration capabilities beyond tedious point-to-point solutions. Expect new market players or existing companies (such as Liaison) to improve upon iPaaS to better meet the needs of a rapidly changing market.

Each year, we’re finding new and innovative ways to leverage data across the workplace. As the amount of data we can access continues to grow, our systems to manage it must grow as well so we can spend more time applying new insights, and less time sifting through an overwhelming amount of information. As we look towards the future, data will no doubt play a starring role.

Cheers to a new year- may we make the most of the data available to us today, and work together to simplify our integration and data management systems so we can reach greater levels of innovation in 2017 and beyond!

Click below to read a whitepaper on what getting data integration right can do for your business.

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Tags: SaaS, cloud, technology, data integration

The Smart Money on EDI

Posted by Shandra Locken on Mon, May 02, 2016 @ 09:00 AM

7408506410_715acb5f6f_z.jpgPicture appears courtesy of Tax Credits.  This week's blog article was written by Art Douglas.  "EDI can save your company 99% of the costs of receiving Purchase Orders and forwarding Shipment Notices and Invoices."  That’s the claim made by the author of an article who knows about measuring that kind of thing.  I would add that in my many years in the EDI industry, I have seen many implementations that squander any possible gains by failing to find out the facts before deciding how to implement EDI.

Some time back I was hired to assist a large health care insurance company select an EDI system to replace their outdated system that was inexorably linked to their outdated coverage software.  We discussed their current needs, plans for the future, discussed managed file transfer, system integration, expansion of their EDI utilization – all the things you need to determine what you need to purchase.  Then we talked about security, redundancy, fail-over, backup plans – all the things the IT people want to know.  I prepared an RFP – Request For Proposal, and sent it out to purveyors of EDI software.  Three companies responded.  One put on an amazing demonstration, and submitted a quote for just under $300G, plus consulting costs.  A second put on an impressive demonstration, and submitted a quote for just under $200G, plus consulting costs.  The third respondent put on a personalized demonstration, and submitted a quote for about $50G, plus consulting costs.

I was notified at noon the day the final demo was seen, and the final proposal was received, that my services were no longer required. I was dismissed.  Their management would make the decision, unencumbered by any insight I might provide.

My contacts later informed me that the healthplan’s IT management had selected the most expensive solution. 

Two years later, the salesman who prepared the least expensive proposal contacted me to say, “Thanks,” because my former client had abandoned the expensive solution and purchased the least expensive.  That solution is still in use today, nine years after I was there.

The client had lost two years and $300,000 plus staff time and consulting costs on a solution I did not recommend, a solution that was ill-suited to their integration and EDI needs.

Later, I was hired to install an EDI solution for a medical products company which up until then had had no EDI capability.  As soon as I arrived on site, the IT manager called a meeting and began telling me how the solution would be implemented.  For example, he would require any trading partner to use FTP point-to-point with the client, no VAN would be allowed (too expensive), and no alternative communication protocol would be considered (must keep it simple).  The first year, only a single trading partner would be implemented.  I was tasked with training a programmer to “Run the EDI.”  The programmer was pointedly indifferent to the assignment, wishing to continue in his primary role as Developer.

Both these implementations failed – one initially, the second ultimately, because management refused to listen to the experts.

EDI is not an expensive undertaking, compared to implementing a full ERP system.  Return on Investment typically begins soon after the software is purchased.  But a successful EDI installation requires understanding of the industry, and understanding of the tool set.  There are an infinite number of ways to squander all the gain a company could potentially realize by stepping into pitfalls that are easily avoided just by listening to experts who have succeeded in the past.

A start-up company recently contacted me to consider being their EDI expert.  They had decided to convert from an in-house EDI solution that was integrated with their ERP to a hosted solution proposed by a leading provider in the EDI industry.  Management had decided.  They had no staff expertise in the area of EDI.  I fear for this company.  They are struggling to get distribution for their narrow market product line.  But any wholesaler or large retail chain would be forced to pay dearly for the right to establish an EDI relationship through the hosted solution.  If only they had asked an expert, rather than relying on the word of a slick marketing team and the decision of an executive who has never worked with EDI.

If your company is thinking about adding EDI capability, or modernizing your existing capabilities, do the smart thing, call an expert.  Heck, contact me.  Art Douglas.  You can find me on LinkedIn.  Or call my friends at the Aurora EDI Alliance.  Spending a little money now could save you a bundle down the road.  Really.

Click below for a great whitepaper on what well designed data integration can do for your business.

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Tags: EDI Technology, EDI software, EDI ROI, EDI provider, cloud, EDI expense, SaaS

Integration Trends Roundup for 2016

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Feb 12, 2016 @ 12:18 PM

iStock_000032256890_Large.jpgWritten by Shabih Syed and reprinted with permission from Liaison Technologies.  In today’s competitive environment, it is vital to the success of an organization to be able to quickly integrate new business applications, link trading partners for electronic data interchange (EDI), transform data between specific formats to fulfill regulatory record keeping requirements, and manage increasingly complicated and distributed supply chains. As complicated as all these tasks are, it's my opinion that we have only scratched the surface of complexity.


As we head into 2016, here is a roundup of trends that I believe will impact the integration and data management technology choices made by CIOs this year. 


Trend #1: IoT and other technology disruptions


The Internet of Things (IoT), cloud, and 3Vs of big data (volume, variety, and velocity) are all interrelated and all impacting integration in a major way. CIOs need to figure out how to bring all these new devices, applications, and data sources together in a way that allows them to be seamlessly integrated, analyzed in real time, and mined for insights. And they need to do it quickly because the potential of these disruptive technologies is tied to revenue growth and there's a need to achieve results in a narrow window of time.


Trend #2: The need for agility


As a result of the technology disruptions mentioned above, integration platforms will be challenged to react to fast-changing implementation needs. Agility will be required to support continuously evolving end points, new functionalities, and the ability to couple and decouple on demand. We're already seeing widespread adoption of agile technologies such as microservices and REST in response to the need for agility, and integration platforms can't afford to be the exceptions.


Trend #3: Hybrid EVERYTHING


The benefits of cloud delivery—speed of implementation, flexibility, scalability, and lower costs to name a few—are spurring on the breakneck adoption of Software as a Service (SaaS). But as some applications make the journey to the cloud while others remain on premises, more and more enterprises are finding themselves straddling hybrid environments. As a direct result, organizations are also increasingly finding themselves straddling hybrid integration environments as they explore cloud-based integration to solve for today's complex use cases. But because organizations will likely remain deeply vested in their legacy ESB platforms for some time to come, CIOs will need to make sure that newly adopted cloud integration solutions are able to work hand in hand with their legacy counterparts.


Trend #4: Data-centric integration


There has never been a greater need than today for organizations to use data as a strategic business tool to drive their competitive advantages in the market—today and in the years to come. As data increasingly becomes a business’ most valuable asset, data needs to be freed from the constraints of applications, allowing it to play a much bigger role in your enterprise than that of merely application artifact. Already we've begun to see the barriers between integration and data management break down as integration platforms accommodate for data management (case in point our dPaaS model), and more and more data management platforms add capabilities around integration. On these unified platforms, ensuring that clean, quality data is available for on-demand analysis is a primary goal, not just the movement of data from one application to another. Organizations that continue to try to go for complex application integrations are slowing down the benefits of data insight and governance that could come from a centralized platform.


Trend #5: Scarcity of resources


A scarcity of resources is pushing IT organizations to point their precious resources to what would really move the needle for revenue and customer satisfaction. As a result, organizations will be looking to leverage cloud delivery of services wherever feasible, including outsourcing of integration, which, while a critical function, does not provide strategic value in and of itself. In addition to freeing resources, outsourcing integration needs will help ensure that business stakeholders have timely access to data for analytics and reporting—something that might not otherwise be possible with a thinly stretched IT department.


We are embracing these trends and their accompanying challenges through our unified cloud integration and data management platform. How about you? Are you ready to embrace them? 


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Tags: EDI integration, data integration, EDI ROI, cloud, SaaS

On-Premise, Hosted or Web-Based EDI – Which is the Right Fit?

Posted by Shandra Locken on Thu, Jul 02, 2015 @ 12:16 PM

EDI ChoicesPhoto appears courtesy of Dean Hochman.  This week's blog was written by Art Douglas.  Millenia ago, Og went into his cave looking for his deer-antler hatchet.  But alas, he was unable to find it, for he had many belongings, and a very small cave.  After hours of searching, the hatchet was discovered.  Later, Og pondered how he could store the hatchet where it would be easier to find.  At that moment, Og remembered his friend, Kow, who had a very large cave with many chambers.  The two friends struck a deal.  Kow would store Og’s weapons in one of his many chambers, so when Og needed them, he didn’t have to search for them in his own cluttered cave, he knew he could find them in Kow’s cave.  Moreover, should Og wish to share his weapons with others in the community, he only had to notify Kow of the fact, and Kow would share Og’s stuff with whomever Og has allowed.

In this way, cloud storage was born.

We have known The Cloud by different names.  When I was first in the industry, we called it Time Sharing.  More recently we have used the term, Hosted.  Regardless, The Cloud is pretty much a euphemism for Somebody Else’s Computer.

The purpose of this blog is to help you decide if EDI in the cloud is the best choice for your operation, or is there some other configuration that will serve you better.

Let’s begin by looking at the various configurations:

  • On-premise EDI.  Your company owns the hardware and software used to run EDI in-house.

  • Hosted EDI Solution.  Another company has the EDI system running on hardware at their own site, and the platform may be shared with other clients of the host, each client’s data kept separate from the others.

  • Web-based EDI.  Another company has a web site that allows you to read and create EDI documents, which are translated to and from EDI, and received from or sent to your Trading Partners.

Let’s look at three key aspects of each, to determine which model is best for us, or our clients.

  • Cost – both initial and on-going.

  • Expertise & Support

  • Volume

The cost of acquisition of the hardware and software to support in in-house EDI system can vary widely, from a few thousand dollars, to hundreds of thousands, depending on the decisions you make.  Cost is not always a predictor of success, in this case.  And big names don’t always perform best.  When calculating the cost, make sure you include the cost of the database software, networking, the hardware platform, and ongoing support in addition to the initial and continuing cost of the EDI software.  Also, make sure you understand what the initial cost includes, in terms of licenses, scalability, etc., and what expansion might cost you in the future.

For a hosted solution, there should be virtually no acquisition costs.  But expect to pay consultant’s rates for map development.

For Web-based EDI, you will probably not directly interface your application with the EDI system.  Instead, you will re-key all inbound and outbound data into the application, or the Web EDI system.  You may be charged for each data transaction, and for map development for each trading partner.

To implement and effectively utilize your EDI system, someone will have to configure it and create and maintain the mapping and business processes that are required in every EDI system.  For an in-house system, you will need to either hire somebody, or contract with an expert to take care of these tasks. You will also want on-going support on staff, or quickly available.  For a hosted system, or a Web-based system, the host should provide expert help with mapping, and configuration, plus support at a contracted rate.  The hosted cloud solution undoubtedly has staff skilled in many areas, but they may also be engaged helping other clients.

When selecting between the hosted or in-house solution, volume should be considered in terms of the capacity of each site to process the peak number of transactions in a timely manner.  Does the hosted solution have the throughput and storage capacity to handle your traffic level, as well as all the other customers the host services?  Does your own operation wish to invest the money to put together a big enough system to handle your volume?  On the other end of the spectrum, how many transactions do you handle in a day?  A week?  A month?  Are there few enough that the savings of using a web-based service will outweigh the cost of implementing a fully integrated EDI solution?

Og’s solution won’t work for everybody.  And today’s cloud has many features that Kow could never supply.  Carefully consider these, as well as other questions before committing to purchase EDI software, trust your data to somebody else, or step back from a full system for the advantage of the lower entry cost of Web EDI.

Art Douglas has been an independent consultant since 1983, and has been implementing EDI solutions around the world for over 15 years.

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Tags: EDI integration, EDI Technology, EDI considerations, EDI software, data integration, benefits of EDI, EDI Implementation, EDI basics, EDI compliant, cloud, EDI expense, EDI document, ERP integration, electronic data interchange

TUG Connects 2014: Perspectives from a Data Integration Vendor

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Mar 14, 2014 @ 12:57 PM

TUG Connects 2014

Guest blogging for the Aurora EDI Alliance this week is Nathan Camp of Liaison Technologies.  Last week, Liaison Technologies joined hundreds of Infor Distribution Product users (SX.e, A+, FACTS, and SHIMS in order of representatives) at (TUG)'s annual educational and networking conference in Palm Springs, CA to share and learn. Across these different attendees, there was a broad range of solution needs and requirements. We were interested to learn about the most compelling current needs and Infor's solution responses.

The Good News

Infor ION is Here

My favorite presentation at TUG Connects 2014 was Infor’s Story Monforte overview of Infor ION. I have been watching Infor’s developments since 2008. ION promises to connect and unite Infor’s widely diverse range of ERP platforms and tactical applications. With its service oriented architecture (SOA) framework, it will likely require a fair amount of effort to implement. This means it will usually be deployed in step with a product upgrade. And true to that extent, Monforte showed us a demonstration of the new Web browser interface of SX.e as it processed inbound orders, tied in with Infor ION, and connecting data seamlessly across other socially collaborative tool sets like the new Infor Ming.le system.

“Infor ION’s use of an open source XML schema is at the heart of open connectivity to the rest of the world.” Story Monforte, Infor

As Monforte identified in his presentation, SX.e was able to process the inbound sales order via traditional Progress database writing, but Monforte also shared that a complete duplicate of that data was created as a separate OAGIS-based XML document and passed through the ION system. Any time a change would be made to the original sales order, the ION system created a new XML document with these changes reflected. With ION, Infor has the elegant solution to tag and share data across a wide range of Infor applications and services. Yet Monforte confirmed that ION isn’t there to lock customers into using Infor products and services. In fact, Infor ION’s use of an open source XML schema is at the heart of open connectivity to the rest of the world.

Business Intelligence for Distributors

To the previous point of ION being a part of information sharing, data connectivity lay at the heart of many discussions we were involved in or overheard. Several exhibitors included advanced business intelligence (BI) and analytics solutions for Infor Distribution customers. Two that we spoke with at length were approaching BI from opposite ends. Kelly March and “Canadian” Ken Prokopec of Phocas Software are applying a simplified user experience to analytics. You can build what you need, as you need it… no geek necessary.

At the other end of the hall, we had a very interesting conversation with Gary Owen and Mickey Lass of MITS, who are building out pre-built key performance indicators (KPI) and dashboards specific to the distribution market. While Owen is quick to point out that MITS is, “Also designed to allow users to build their own reports and users are not tied to only using our pre-built metrics,” what is interesting here is that advanced insights and functionality is defined for you, the distributor. Owen said their approach stems from their experiences with clients. Says Owen, “What we learned over the years (we’ve been doing this since the mid-nineties) is that even a nice point and click user interface for building your own reports isn’t enough of a time saver. Figuring out what reports to build and how to apply the data to your business can be more difficult and time consuming than actually making the reports. We wanted our customers to get much more than just a tool, but the tool is still included.” And since MITS works extensively with Infor’s SX.e and A+ communities, much of those best practice KPIs are predefined and ready for you to use.

Web Commerce Is Growing In Importance

It’s clear that change is afoot in the distribution world. Mobile technology and myriad sources of data are making it easier for customers to price compare, check on inventory availability, and search catalogs in the office or at job sites. Additionally, these distributors are responsible for sourcing and providing goods from hundreds of suppliers. Their customers are looking to these distributors for product resources and how products from various sources can be combined for the best impact to their clients. Infor’s distributors are keen to compare notes on posting and updating catalog and inventory details online and how Infor’s eCommerce solutions can come into play in these sales channels.

Just as important as distributors’ adoption of eCommerce, the impact of customer side Web store solutions is also having a key impact on data and business execution needs. Liaison’s A+ partner, Aurora Technologies shared how one of their clients is being affected as their traditional brick and mortar retailers begin to execute more eCommerce initiatives. As access to storeroom shelving is disappearing, this distributor is now tied into and order fulfillment. Now as customers shop online or in-store, they can choose to have goods purchased be delivered to their homes or their local store. The requirements on inventory management, customer fulfillment, and return processing is migrating from traditional retail over to the distributors.

Proceeding With Caution

Infor Distribution Customers Don’t Necessarily Have Complete Data

In our two presentations titled, “Unification of Data” and “Big Data Demystified,” Liaison Technologies shared details about how we and our partners, like Aurora Technologies, Inc., support our clients’ efforts in unifying their data that is created, consumed, and shared within the four walls and externally with other companies and systems. More and more of our customers are moving to a best-of-breed array of on-premise and Cloud-based services. This surprisingly complex amalgamation of multiple data sources, formats, data repository, and connection methods means a growing reliance on data stewardship within the organization. Allowing the company leadership to make informed path decisions, allowing sales and marketing to target emerging opportunities, and providing procurement with a complete picture of purchase history and buying power is all dependent on access to clean, trusted, and fresh data.

Complete data looks different to each user. In our discussions we noted that every department within a company has their own data priorities and needs. Here are a few of the examples we provided:

(1) Marketing

  • Goals: build measurable traffic increases, drive qualified leads to sales, all while preserving corporate branding
  • Activities: Content management, SEO, A/B testing, using marketing automation tools, running heat maps, monitoring FaceBook/Twitter/Amazon review
  • Considerations: sharing competitively important data with software-as-a-service tools like SalesForce CRM or marketing automation tools like HubSpot/Marketo, needing to incorporate non-structured data

(2) Web Commerce

  • Goals: using new sales channels, staying current with marketplace trends (Amazon, Ariba, SciQuest), reducing or eliminating shipping error and fraud, maintaining fresh information on the Web site
  • Activities: using B2C experience in B2B operations, using outside address validation services through API calls before the orders are accepted, PCI compliance, dynamic catalogs and inventory feeds
  • Considerations: punchout, data tokenization strategies for customer details and credit card numbers

(3) Supply Chain Access and Visibility

  • Goals: need to drive down costs through automation, need to tightly orchestrate inventory with a more internationally diverse range of suppliers
  • Activities: EDI collaboration and supplier enablement, reduction in freight costs through more efficient purchasing processes
  • Considerations: EDI expansion needs to include affordable options to get beyond 20% supplier usage, it must contain local language support, suppliers must be encouraged to use EDI if they exchange 5 or more documents per month

Each department in the company is clearly driven by and driving data. But no company we spoke with has a complete connection between these different data pools nor necessarily the depth of data to provide statistically reliable information necessary for proper data analytics. Why this disconnect?

Infor Distribution Users Have Resource Limitations

This explosion of data sources and the need to secure the data as mentioned above is quickly overwhelming the average distribution company. During our conversations with Infor Distribution customers, there were very complex reactions and responses to our ideas we were sharing. One very large distributor had 120 local warehouses across North America. They had over 1,000 suppliers. Yet they didn’t have a Web site, nor a marketing team, nor a solution to encourage more supply chain use of EDI, be it X12 or their own flavor of data integration format for SX.e (yes, with ION, this becomes even more possible). They interpreted the list of integrations their peers are experiencing as more than more work on the shoulders of IT to eek out slightly more revenue or less costs.

And they are right. How can any CEO, CTO, or CIO expect to adopt more technology while IT/IS are already tasked to their limits simply to maintain the current systems and planning for upgrades? Yet the role of corporate leadership is to exploit a company’s strengths, uncover new opportunities, distance itself from its competition, and deliver the best service to its clients. I would argue that without proper, complete, fresh, and truthful data, corporate leadership cannot make those decisions.

Brian Gentile’s article for Wired, Rethinking BI: Why Analytics are the Fabric of the Future, makes the very astute point when he talks of all systems within an organization when he says, “Analytics should be a simple and powerful part of every application, built into the very fabric of the business system or process.” But creating data, refining it, and then making it meaningful for your business is going to need unique elements specifically tied to how you do business.

So what is the bridge between the need for connected data within and without the four walls, used in conjunction with current technical resources? I would argue, based upon my observations and success stories that I’m witnessing with Liaison’s other customer communities, is that a flexible approach to data integration, management, and security should be applied. Liaison’s answer to this has been to provide the scalable tools that can do as little as you want it to or as much data connectivity as you can muster. Then we match our human resources to your projects to extend your bench of IT experts according to project priority. These feats can include on-premise solutions for companies with a desire to self-manage, fully Cloud-based integration and security solutions so these operations become managed-by-experts, to a hybrid of some Cloud and some on-premise, yet managed with the help of Liaison partners that also happen to be experts in the Infor Distribution packages.

We met with many companies well on the path to complete and whole data. We also met with many companies that wanted to find guidance in their journeys. But in every case, the conversations were meaningful, and we all learned more from the time shared. Our gratitude goes out to our business partners, the TUG organizers, Infor, and our clients in attendance.

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Tags: EDI integration, e-commerce, integration software, data integration, supply chain, EDI User Group, cloud