Your EDI Resource

B2B Growth Leads to New Adventures

Posted by Warren Spiller on Wed, Oct 24, 2018 @ 08:30 AM

jawsPhoto appears courtesy of Kevin Dooley.  “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,”  is what Roy Scheider famously said in the 1975 film Jaws.  Of course, this is now a well-known euphemism for “we’re going to need more resources,” which brings us to a meeting three decades later.

It was a beautiful spring evening in Atlanta in April of 2011.  Faith Lamprey of Aurora Technologies, Harrisville, Rhode Island, Roger Curtis of Sitcur, Los Angeles, and myself, Warren Spiller of JRX Services, Atlanta, were attending the annual meeting of Liaison Technologies’ reseller partners.  The three of us had been resellers for Softshare’s pioneering EDI mapping and communications software for quite a while, and now Softshare had been acquired by Liaison Technologies, a world-wide provider of B2B integration and data management solutions.

Faith, Roger, and I sat in the hotel cocktail lounge, reminiscing about our past experiences over the years, how we enabled our client companies to become EDI compliant from scratch, or helped them to replace outdated EDI software with ECS and Delta, the state-of-the-art software originally developed by Softshare, and now would be an important addition to Liaison’s product line.   

We also talked about the future.  Our individual regional approach to marketing our extensive expertise and software had been working well.  We all had solid and successful businesses, but would this be enough to meet the challenges ahead, especially in light of the global marketplace now available to us with Liaison Technologies?   We all agreed that we were “…gonna need a bigger boat,” a new business model with a nationwide presence in which we could share our combined vast EDI and data integration experience and resources, and yet maintain our individuality.  And so, the Aurora EDI Alliance was born!

The Aurora EDI Alliance has experienced major expansion, so that we now are a major nationwide provider of EDI implementation and support, data integration, and related B2B services.  And collectively, we are now Liaison’s largest reseller with customers around the globe.    

Recently Faith Lamprey decided to sell her business (Aurora Technologies/EDI Support, Inc.) to another Aurora EDI Alliance partner, GraceBlood LLC, based in Baltimore, so that she could accept a full-time position teaching accounting and technology at Providence College.  GraceBlood has retained all of Faith’s staff and customers, and Liaison has heartily approved of the transition.  The newly formed company is well poised to build upon a foundation that has been 20 years in the making.  Current solutions and support services will be expanded with more resources and expertise, while retaining the industry-leading customer satisfaction for which they’re known.  We will surely miss Faith, but we are confident that the GraceBlood team will lead us to new heights.

Faith’s leadership, along with our combined 200 plus years of experience and B2B expertise, has truly fulfilled the vision that we planned on that beautiful spring evening seven years ago.  How can we help you fulfill YOUR vision???   

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Tags: B2B integration, B2B, data integration, EDI software, data management

What are the Most Successful B2Cs Doing?

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Sep 21, 2018 @ 06:17 PM

14865096482_366bdf03df_zPhoto appears courtesy of Mike MozartThis blog was written by Aurora EDI Alliance partner, Jim Gonzalez.  This is a question all companies should be asking themselves as we are moving in the direction of purchasing all goods online through mobile devices.  How often do you go to the store to pick up something you ordered online? Grocery stores are moving to ordering online with the local store delivering to your home. Some stores - Walmart and Target come to mind - allow you to order online and pick up at the local store to save on shipping.  This is due to Walmart and other major entities moving into other sectors they weren’t historically known for. Walmart was the go-to retail store for discount items just a decade ago. Now they are pushing to also be your discount everything from tires to iPads to tomatoes, and even offer additional discounts for ordering online with store pick-up. To further meet consumer demand, they are offering more items that are either organic or sourced sustainably or both.  Think about it, if you stay stagnant, you will quickly become irrelevant in today’s competitive environment.

You want to evaluate where your business is successful compared to your competitors. Then work through how you can expand those areas in the next month, year and decade. Envision the future growth to keep pushing the envelope.

I am seeing more and more successful B2Cs adding as much automation as possible to remove the human error, along with keeping the customer informed throughout the entire customer experience. You might not think of Domino's when it comes to Business to Consumer (B2C), but they are doing a fantastic job in this area.  Their system allows you to order food online and get notifications of where your order is at in the process, from time of order to delivery. You can also check online to see the progress.  Think about that – their customer never has to call to find out where the order is. This also reduces the amount of staff needed to handle those inquiries, allowing for more time to make pizza.

The last major hurdle is to be the trend and more importantly, to keep being the trend. Amazon is leading the charge among all B2Cs. They are looking to place warehouse facilities to allow delivery of products to homes in 24 hours or less.  Also, they’re working with stores that use radio frequency identification (RFID) to allow for purchases without having to wait in checkout lines. They are acquiring other market leaders like Whole Foods to expand offerings – did you know that Amazon has lockers at Whole Foods’ brick and mortar locations?  Order from Amazon and pick up at Whole Foods!  It’s the perfect compromise for apartment dwellers and the like.  And they’re looking to start using driverless trucks to get products cross country faster without driver fatigue.

Your business may not have the cash advantage like a Walmart, Domino's or Amazon. You may not have as many employees or resources. But what you do have is the opportunity to make your mark. All of those companies started out of nothing and became something. If you need a partner to guide you through some of your technical initiatives, contact us for a consultation. We will help you expand through data integration and automating your business processes.

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Tags: B2C, data integration, automation, amazon, Walmart, smb

Dashboard Dreams

Posted by Shandra Locken on Tue, Sep 18, 2018 @ 06:51 PM

5380858405_1a63aed659_zPhoto appears courtesy of Airwaves1.  This blog was written by Alliance partner, Karen Blood of GraceBlood LLC.  Our company serves supply chain clients who operate their own on premises systems for handling EDI activity as well as clients who rely on our managed services for handling some or all such B2B activity. We’ve been exploring how best to leverage the latest technology to deliver useful, actionable information based on such activity directly to our clients. Lately, we’ve been dreaming about delivering dashboards, or at-a-glance views of key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor important aspects of the business. Today’s tech is so powerful, today’s dreams quickly become tomorrow’s reality!

We’re starting by imagining what the various stakeholders might need and how they would benefit.

The bread and butter activity for most of our clients is performed by the wizards in Customer Service. These are the people who ensure that every customer’s needs are being met. With a properly running, automated EDI system a quick glance at their daily dashboard can confirm system processing including activity and exceptions by trading partner and performance status vis a vis service level agreements (SLAs), especially for more demanding trading partners. Anything amiss becomes easily actionable and leaves more time for any ad hoc activity, i.e. addressing product, service, billing or other concerns. While internal ERP systems supply much product-oriented and transactional information, we can easily imagine querying a dashboard system for the customer’s PO # and getting back a visual flow from the customer’s perspective of not only when that PO arrived, but when it was acknowledged, shipped, and invoiced, including the option of drilling in to each document. Why shouldn’t we be able to query with any piece of available information and then pick up the entire related document flow?

Part of the Operations team’s dashboard might be more volume oriented to guide staff utilization, i.e. focused on #s of orders, #s of lines, organized by ship via as well as partner and requested shipping date. Another part might clearly identify orders facing shipping or ASN deadlines. What about alerts for Rejected ASNs which may be due to mismatched or missing information? Operations should be able to drill-down to identify the challenge, and quickly correct which can avoid the ripple effects of an invoice being rejected because the ASN has not yet been accepted.

The Controller / CFO types dream of dashboards to improve payment days, and queries to support refuting any chargebacks that are incurred but more importantly wants the information about activity, chargebacks and exceptions aggregated for easy analysis, prioritization, and elimination, collaboratively both within the organization and with trading partners. Are we doing enough business efficiently with a given trading partner to meet a SLA demand or price reduction request? It is easy to lose sight of orders that are processed automatically - what about alerts for unusually large ones?

IT of course wants the new Dashboard system to be easy for non-technical, non-EDI familiar users to successfully use. Really, they do, IT already has a lot on the plate. They want additional dashboards to be available to address the specific needs of their various stakeholders, and useful templates to encourage creation and adoption of new ones. What about definable notifications and alerts by e-mail or text message? For speed, security and risk management, IT wants the infrastructure for such a system to reside separately from the production systems yet be linked real-time for the most up to date info without regard to time of day or other scheduled business processes. IT would wake up ecstatic to have a system built on trusted data that is already flowing in and out of the company rather than one that requires transformation or cleansing. And IT wants to deliver such a system fully loaded, with data from as much as possible of past activity so applicable dashboards may be easily built and used immediately.

Let us know what’s on your Dream Dashboard and watch this space to see your dreams come true soon!

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Tags: data integration, dashboard, big data analytics, B2B integration, business processes, Integration, ERP integration

What is Tableau Software and How Does it Relate to EDI?

Posted by Faith Lamprey on Mon, Jul 30, 2018 @ 08:36 AM

2126909099_b37c305b9b_zPhoto appears courtesy of Todd Huffman.  Data seems to be the be-all end-all of today’s business world.  We have access to more data than ever before, but no one seems to know what to do with it.  Enter Tableau.  I spent three days in a Tableau class this summer to learn how to use this software package to discover interesting insights that can be found by analyzing data about a company’s customers and products.  The Tableau software is a data visualization tool that allows you to explore and better understand your data and create insightful visuals and dashboard displays to help with decision making.  Using the analytical tools and robust visualization the software contains can unveil trends, correlations and meaningful statistics that are not obvious by just looking at the raw data.  Tableau also enables a story about the data to be told in a format that is interactive allowing for slicing and dicing of the data to answer questions from your audience during a presentation to reveal even more insights on the fly.  This software is powerful and easy to use and is being utilized by many organizations to uncover a wealth of information from their data to help with decision making.

What becomes quickly apparent when working with this type of software is that it is essential to spend time up front to review and clean the data sets.  In order for the software to provide valuable and actionable information that can be trusted, the data that is used must be accurate, consistent and complete which is not usually the case with data.  The data cleaning step (also called data cleansing and data scrubbing) can take some time, but investing the extra effort will allow the software to provide more meaningful results. 

Data should come from a trusted source.  It should be compiled and maintained under a sound data governance program that uses good editing and verification techniques to ensure the integrity of the data.  In a data cleaning process all fields that are to be used for analysis should be verified to ensure that the data values are not missing and the fields contain valid data.  For instance, in order to perform meaningful and accurate geographic analysis, all state fields cannot be blank or contain an invalid state code.  Often codes must be standardized when looking at data from different divisions of a company to make them consistent across organizational lines. 

This is no different than what we find with EDI transactions.  A missing item number will cause an outgoing Invoice map to fail when the data element is a mandatory field.  An invalid item number on an incoming Purchase Order will cause a delay in the processing as that item will be unknown to the Trading Partner receiving the order.  We are currently working with a customer whose Trading Partner continues to send invalid item numbers that slow down the incoming purchase order process while demanding a short time for our customer to ship the order without penalties.  In addition, the users at the company have been changing data on the order accidently (carelessly?) which causes problems with the outgoing invoicing and ASN process.  This is frustrating for all of the parties involved and the chargebacks are mounting.

I have been in the Information Technology field for many decades and while so much has changed, one thing has remained constant.  Only good data will yield meaningful results that can be trusted for decision making.  The process of data cleaning, while it is a rather mundane, very time consuming task and not on the top of anyone’s list of fun things to do, is essential as a basis for all information processing.

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Tags: big data analytics, data integration, EDI, data transformation

The Definitive Guide to the Business Benefits of Digital Transformation

Posted by Shandra Locken on Tue, Jul 03, 2018 @ 08:30 AM

bigstock-Win-Win-Strategy-199453594This blog, written by Liaison VP Gary Palgon, is reprinted with permission by Liaison Technologies.  Much has been said and written about digital transformation and its benefits. But as companies that have embraced digital transformation continue to be analyzed and studied, patterns emerge and the positive impacts of digital transformation can be summarized into three major benefits: the transformation of business operations, the evolution of customer-centric organizations, and the revolution of business models.

Key Benefit #1: Business Operations Transformation

Arguably, the most important and impactful benefit of digital transformation happens behind the scenes. The transformation of business operations lays the foundation for other key benefits of digital transformation.

This benefit can be further categorized into three types: the digitalization of business operations, empowerment of employees, and greater resource management.

Digitalization of Business Operations

Using technology to transform business operations reduces or even eliminates processes that do not require human judgment or strategic thinking. By digitalizing business operations, enterprises are freeing their employees from menial tasks and allowing them to focus on strategic tasks. Digitalization achieves this for enterprises through applications that make business operations less time consuming, and programs that completely automate business processes.

For instance, T-Mobile transformed its IT department by automating its testing process. By automating over 83% of its IT department’s test scripts, T-Mobile’s IT experts, programmers, and developers were able to focus on more complicated test scripts that require human judgment. At the same time, automation streamlined its testing process, leading to greater efficiency and reduced errors.

Greater Resource Management

Digital transformation has paved the way for enterprises to capture large amounts of varying information and transform them into deeper insights. Big data analytics provides enterprises with real-time information and greater visibility and insights into its operations, especially the performance of its assets. This allows enterprises to make faster and more objective decisions based on data. 

As the ingestion and analysis of data become faster and more powerful, the level of detail that enterprises are able to capture and generate is also improving, allowing them to make even deeper and more informed decisions that were not previously possible. For instance, big data analytics has enabled the analysis of thousands of connected devices that make up the Internet of Things (IoT), which provide extremely detailed information on assets, operations, and processes.

Empowerment of Employees

Aside from being able to focus on strategic tasks, technology has also increased the mobility of employees and the collaboration and knowledge sharing among them.

Through the virtualization of work processes, many employees can perform their work regardless of location, even in the comfort of their own homes or when posted overseas. In the area of field service operations or aftermarket industries, the virtualization of processes is even more beneficial as it allows field service engineers and technicians to access the latest information even when they are on the field or when they are mobile. This also allows enterprises to reduce costs by saving on office space rentals and other related expenses.

Networking and collaboration applications enable employees to work together, even when they are remote. It also eliminates the inconvenience of having to find a meeting room and setting a schedule when the meeting proponents are all in one place. These applications also open the door for enterprises to communicate with third parties and even global partners. Finally, these applications can also enable and encourage the sharing of knowledge and best practices among employees leading to the overall improvement of the enterprise. This is what Marriott has done exceptionally well as it incorporated the best practices across its 15 brands into its entire company culture.

Key Benefit #2: Evolving into Customer-Centric Organizations

Among the three key benefits of digital transformation, elevating enterprises into customer-centric organizations is the most obvious and evident. The results of this key benefit are greater customer insights and a better overall customer experience.

Greater Customer Insights

Just as technology is enabling enterprises to gain insights on their assets, it is also enabling them to capture information and gain deeper insights on their customers.

With the rise of e-commerce and social media, there is an abundance of customer data for enterprises to gather. For instance, by listening to what people say on social media, enterprises are able to gain an understanding of what customers like and what leads to dissatisfaction.

By using applications and programs that can integrate with e-commerce and social media websites, enterprises are able to capture, utilize, and analyze these information and transform them into meaningful insights. For example, McCormick, one of the leading spice companies in the world, launched FlavorPrint. FlavorPrint captures customers’ flavor preferences and recommends recipes that they can try based on these preferences. Not only did this enable McCormick to engage with customers and add value, but it also put their customers at the center of their future product development and promotions based on the data they capture.

Better Customer Experience

Greater customer insights also lead to the transformation of the overall customer experience. By better understanding their customers, enterprises are able to deliver what their customers want. For example, using these insights and customer data, enterprises are able to provide customers with more personalized products, services, and even promotions.

Technology also empowers enterprises to provide their customers with a truly digital experience. For example, enterprises are now able to provide customer service through social media channels, thus assuring customers that they are heard and that their grievances are addressed as quickly as possible.

Key Benefit #3: Revolutionizing Business Models

Digital transformation is not only improving how enterprises operate from within and how they interact and engage with customers — it is also redefining their entire business model.

Creation of Digital Products and Services

Consumers are now willing to pay not only for physical products and services, but also for digital ones. Technology is also enabling enterprises to augment their physical products and services with digital offerings. Some companies use digital technologies to promote and sell their physical products, while others are even able to build businesses around purely digital products and services.

Under Armour has developed a fitness app that captures not only its customers’ health and fitness information, but also data on how its customers use its products. Knowing that the average running shoe breaks down after 400 miles of running, Under Armour is able to notify customers and recommend its products based on their activity and fitness regimen.

Opening the Door to Globalization

Finally, technology has truly connected economies of all sizes and opened the door to globalization.

Technology has allowed enterprises to operate in any part of the globe by enabling faster communication and by establishing shared services for their support functions (such as finance and human resources) and even their core functions (such as sales and manufacturing).

Massive improvements and transparency in shipping and logistics, coupled with easier and greater access to shippers, extended trade from advanced economies and large multinational companies to developing countries, startups, small companies, and even individuals.

While the opportunities presented by globalization are providing an incentive for enterprises to transform digitally, the competition that globalization brings also compels them to change.

Digital Transformation Starts With Integration

Digital transformation enables organizations to open up new sales channels, find new markets and opportunities, increase revenues, and improve efficiency. But in order to begin their digital transformation journey, enterprises must start with connecting and managing data to ensure the highest quality of data is supplied to the enterprise — and only then can enterprises fully harness the business benefits of digital transformation.

Click below to read our case study on how we helped Quibids.com optimize their EDI operations.

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Tags: big data analytics, data transformation, data integration, globalization

EDI Communications Using AS2 or VAN

Posted by David McAlister on Fri, May 18, 2018 @ 08:30 AM

5645175542_fa12ab159f_zPicture appears courtesy of frankieleon. How many times have we gotten frustrated because the software on the computer or our phone changed with an update or upgrade, causing us to have to search for a function that once was so simple to find like changing the display characteristics on the computer?  Seems like it never ends - just when we think we know what we are doing in our golden years, we have to learn something new….real golden!  

According to book.bionumbers.org 100 million new red blood cells are created every minute and that the lifetime of these red blood cells is four months.  Thank God software does not have that kind of turnover!  That being said, every software package also has its own life cycle.  Those who have worked on myriad systems might run into a client that has carefully kept a system alive even when the current versions are far more advanced.  My intention is always to actively keep my clients’ software current while mitigating the risks that come with any change.  EDI software is the backbone of most companies’ customer base.  Knowing the old adage, the customer is always right, would lead one to believe keeping EDI software current would be their highest priority.  Never fails though, the penny pinching always seems to get in the way of making prudent decisions.

The largest value-add to my selling Liaison’s ECS (Electronic Commerce Server) as an EDI translator and communications package is the product’s ability to do AS2.  By its name it truly does so much more.  Commerce Suite by Liaison or Exchange CS is just one of those packages that has seen the end of its life.  Without further updates on the horizon, those needing to fulfill newer certificate requirements are no longer able to satisfy the requirements of their customers like SHA256.  The most convincing argument for me to a client prospect is the cost of using the Value-Added-Network (VAN) versus AS2 direct to their trading partners.  During the sales cycle we are able to show the client the payoff of Liaison’s ECS by the money they spend on VAN charges trading EDI.  In some cases the payoff is just a few years away. 

In these cases this is only icing on the cake due to so many features ECS offers to solve challenges within the enterprise integration environment.  A client never thinks they will use API integration until they decide to communicate with Amazon or UPS with these technologies.  Then the options are wide open for what they can do to satisfy future requirements.  For a techy like me, this kind of flexibility is exciting.  We have been doing installs now for more than 12 years in ECS and Delta and each implementation is as interesting and thrilling as it was that very first day.  Seeing all of the moving parts work together and knowing I am helping an organization reach its potential is its own reward.

As the news speaks of companies giving $5,000 down on a mortgage to come live in Grant County, Indiana, the news is real that unemployment is at an all time low.  Jobs are the last thing to come back in a down turn.  Is your software up-to-date and ready for the spike in the economy?  Are you sitting with your version of Commerce Suite waiting for the next customer to tell you to conform to their requirements in a short time? What will you do to be prepared and ready to satisfy your customers' requirements in short-order?  Give us a call so we can show you the real golden years!  McAna EDI has been in business for 22 years selling and supporting EDI and data integration solutions.

Click below to read our latest case study and see how Delta/ECS helped Quibids.com streamline their EDI operations.

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Tags: Integration, VAN Services, AS2, communication, data integration, EDI integration

5 Things Your Boss Wants to Know About Data Integration

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Apr 27, 2018 @ 08:30 AM

5780056202_385dcf8f95_zPhoto appears courtesy of Martin FischThis blog was written by Jim Gonzalez, an independent EDI consultant for the Aurora EDI Alliance.  I am often asked what the benefit is for Data Integration. Usually, the person asking is someone on a decision making panel who has the least amount of technical experience. Let’s provide some answers that can put your boss at ease and help you look to Data Integration as a positive change for your business.

  1. First and foremost, having integrated systems will free up time for anyone that is manually entering information. More time means other tasks can be taken care of without adding employee hours and therefore cost.  For example, one of my clients had five full-time Data Entry employees being paid to process Purchase Orders. The same amount of Purchase Orders, are now being processed through an automated system by ONE employee that monitors the Purchase Orders.
  2. Secondly, Data Integration eliminates user errors. You can set up systemic validation that can prevent users from keying in wrong information or from missing mandatory information.  Wrong information and/or missing information is the stuff of chargeback nightmares.
  3. Next, increase revenue and close new business. A lot of your customers (and potential customers) will want to see that your organization can handle things in a timely manner. Some of these big companies (think Walmart) count on their suppliers to operate 24/7. Through Data Integration we can construct a solution that is hands free and runs after business hours and holidays. Computers don’t require a break or time off.
  4. Further, unify your various systems in your company. You might have a Warehouse Management System (WMS) that doesn’t talk to your Accounting System. A well constructed Data Integration solution can communicate and share data between disparate systems to keep things moving seamlessly.
  5. Lastly, the four previous points all lead to one thing - MONEY!!! Data Integration will save you money and help you make vast financial strides.  More money means you have resources to invest back into your business whether it’s new employees, new equipment, or manufacturing.

If you ever find yourself looking to provide ROI (Return On Investment) for Data Integration, you need to look at all facets of your business. Start with areas that will have the most impact overall. Then move onto the pain points to get those alleviated.  Invest in your data and you will be investing in your future as a business.

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Tags: data integration, EDI integration, ERP integration, wms, supply chain

IOT & EDI

Posted by Faith Lamprey on Mon, Feb 26, 2018 @ 07:21 PM

17404793095_8688655ddd_z.jpgPhoto appears courtesy of ITU Pictures.  Recently I was reading a white paper about how Advanced Vehicle Technology is changing the Transportation Industry.  They were talking about "connected trucks" equipped with IOT (Internet of Things) devices (devices with sensors that can communicate with other devices) that can monitor things like temperature, location and speed and produce data that can be used to drive predictive analytics for companies.  I started thinking about how we can leverage the EDI software we use (Liaison's Delta/ECS) to get this data from carriers to the senders and receivers of the goods.

One area the article discussed was using IOT devices to monitor the storage temperature of food while it is being transported to provide clear cold chain tracking and accountability.  This would give proof of clear custody and control of the product if questions surround the quality of it.  Some of this data is required on ASNs in the food industry so having a carrier be able to transmit it and being able to drop it in an ASN document would add to the completeness and accuracy of the data required for food transportation.

The IOT devices can also provide data to know where a delivery is in real time so companies can schedule staff to receive and distribute the delivery when it arrives.  This would provide better visibility of the status of goods ordered and makes the carrier an integral part in the value chain.

The carrier has always been a weak spot in the EDI process, as EDI documents typically go from the vendor to the customer with no input from the carrier other than a PRO number (carrier generated tracking number).  Utilizing the Web Services functionality within Delta/ECS, IOT-enabled delivery data can be updated in real time in a secure manner to give companies greater visibility to when the goods will arrive.

This does not have to apply just to trucks.  All forms of transportation (planes, trains, ships) can use IOT to communicate shipment data.  With the frequency of extreme weather patterns across the country, real-time updating of expected delivery information would be very beneficial to keep the supply chain functioning more effectively.

Integrating the data "connected" carriers can provide into the supply chain enhances the entire process and provides for more efficiency and greater visibility for both the senders and receivers of goods.  The 856 EDI ASN (Advanced Shipment Notice) document provides receivers with what is being delivered and how it is packaged.  Being able to add a "when" dimension to that document is a logical next step given the technology available today.

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Tags: IOT, EDI software, data integration, integration software, Liaison Delta/ECS

How Liaison’s Delta/ECS Solves Integration Challenges

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Feb 09, 2018 @ 03:43 PM

30152022395_ce0f1ae72c_z.jpgPhoto appears courtesy of Lensman.Official.  This blog was written by Kevin Klimek, Support Technician for Aurora Technologies.  We all know that integrating your EDI is the holy grail of being EDI capable.  But why doesn’t everyone take advantage of integration?  We can talk about expense or lack of staff or any number of issues but the integration itself what I want to focus on here. Integration is not always a simple concept.  There are different integration challenges that face vendors and retailers when implementing a seamless EDI system. What are some of these challenges?

First and foremost, how do you move information in and out of disparate applications? For example, transferring data from the retailer into your (vendor’s) very different application, or moving data from your application to the retailer. There are a couple of different ways you can accomplish this. The first method is to use a database which you can then import and export the data needed. Another method includes the use of files with specific formats that the applications can read.

The second challenge to integration is converting the data sent/received into something usable/readable by the applications, not to mention a human who may need to review the data being sent/received. If an individual does not have any EDI experience when looking at a raw EDI document, it would appear to them as computer gibberish.  Trying to learn what all the segments and elements of an EDI document translate to in a meaningful way can take up a valuable resource known as time.

Another integration challenge is the transmission of your data securely to its destination. This can be between Trading Partners, between users within the organization, or from one Value Added Network (VAN) mailbox to another.  There are different protocols that can be used in order to transmit this data such as SFTP, FTPS, AS2, SMTP and POP3 to name a few. Lastly, how do you address exception handling and/or other unanticipated issues? When an issue arises with the data being sent in and out of the applications, or when an error occurs in the communication protocols, it disrupts the flow of business operations and can ultimately affect your bottom line.

How does Liaison’s Delta/ECS solve some of these challenges? So happy you asked.  The challenge of moving data in and out of applications is met nicely with Liaison’s Delta mapper, providing a user with the flexibility of writing EDI documents to any number of file formats such as text files, CSV files, or XML files to name a few. Delta is truly an any-to-any translation tool.  With the powerful flexibility of the mapper, the EDI data can be mapped into a user friendly format which makes it easy for the user to understand and read.  Liaison Delta can also read/write data directly to/from a database.

The third challenge is secure communications and this is where Liaison ECS comes into play. Liaison ECS, acting as the airport control tower, deals in a wide variety of communication protocols depending on the business requirements of an organization, and the requirements of the Trading Partner. Liaison ECS can handle all of the established protocols, including the newish SHA2 encryption now being required by several retailers.  See this blog for more on that.

ECS also does an incredible job with exception handling.  Not only does ECS provide secure communications methods, it also allows for error reporting if an issue should arise, notifying you before it becomes a major headache. These are done through setting up event rules within ECS to capture different errors. When an error/issue is encountered, ECS can send out error alerts to individuals notifying them of the issue.

The flexibility of Liaison Delta/ECS makes for solving integration challenges a breeze!

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Tags: EDI solution, EDI, Liaison Delta/ECS, data integration, integration software, EDI integration

Data Integration: A Buying Guide

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Nov 17, 2017 @ 01:29 PM

bigstock--131190917.jpgThis blog was written by Jim Gonzalez.  Over the last 20 years I have been asked a lot of questions by customers and fellow peers about data integration. What I have found is that there are five questions that need to be answered and these are in no particular order. Of course, these questions can and often do lead to new questions.  But if you can answer the following initial questions, you will may just stop going in circles and start on a path to success.

File Formats/Layouts to be Integrated:
               
Are you looking to deal with EDI, XML, CSV, Pipe delimited etc..? A lot of times you will just need to start off handling one format based on your initial engagement. It could be an internal engagement between one department or another. It could be an engagement between your company and a buyer. As I said earlier answering one question can lead into a lot of other questions. Please try to keep your focus on what is right in front of you or upcoming in the next couple of months, not what could be many years away.  Long term goals need to be kept in mind while constructing a solution, but it’s easy to get sidetracked so it’s important to prioritize: now, one year from now, five years from now, etc.
 
Investment:
 
How much can you afford to spend? Truly analyze that question and know your answer. You will need to have your software costs locked down and not variable. A huge piece that most people don’t take into full consideration is professional services. Professional services covers billable hours for software installation, map development, consulting and training. Don’t allow a company or consultant to give you a range of hours they don’t commit too. If you allow them to change the hour range when there is no increase in workload it can ruin the entire project. All companies and individuals need to be held accountable to the Statement of Work.  You can’t change your mind and then expect the consultants to not change the hours required.  Just as a consultant can’t change the hours required to complete a project because they didn’t account for all of your upfront requirements.
 
ROI (Return on Investment):
 
How many work hours are you saving? This can be hard to quantify but see this blog for more info on that.  Also, would you be increasing revenue with customers? You have to factor in every value-add that data integration will bring. If you can pull it all together and effectively present to the upper level management, it will further your cause and help get your project approved. The more headaches that can be resolved and the less human intervention required will allow your company to accomplish its business goals.

Goals to be accomplished:
 
Was this mandated by a customer to continue doing business by using EDI or another format? Are you simply doing this to appease a disgruntled employee? Did upper level management hear of this new thing while at the latest conference? No matter how it came about, the bottom line is that you need to move forward with data integration. Keep a record of the successes you have accomplished as each process gets done. It will allow for a time line of events and can lead to more opportunities for data integration that you never even considered. I have implemented many systems over the years and resolved issues for clients who didn’t realize the issues existed.

On Premise or Hosted:
 
Can your current network handle the data integration? Do you need to purchase additional hardware? Do you have the staff to handle the support? How do you feel about another company hosting the hardware and software for you? Have you weighed the costs? The question of whether you’re better off with hosted or on-premise never has an easy answer and you will find everyone has an opinion. This usually is all preference based. My preference is to control the hardware and software in house. It is an investment that will pay off in the long run. Never allow yourself to get stuck in a short term solution that can’t grow with your organization.
 
My conclusion for all of this, is that you need to know what you want or at least have an idea.  If you can come up with answers to the above questions, with proper guidance you will be able to construct an appropriate solution to meet your business objectives. Since you are reading this, rest assured you have found yourself the right group of partners that you can trust. A good consultant can bring his or her years of knowledge and experience to help you succeed. When I finish an implementation I feel an accomplishment that is unmatched. Reach out and let us know the pitfalls you have going on with your company!  Take advantage of our no cost, no obligation consultation.

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Tags: data integration, hosted EDI, EDI software, EDI Consultant, EDI considerations