Your EDI Resource

Why We Love Liaison's Delta/ECS Data Integration Package

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Nov 06, 2015 @ 11:37 AM

Photo appears courtesy of Tony Hisgett. This week's blog was written by Aurora's Manager of EDI Services, Kristen Kearns.  Nowadays, there’s all kinds of products that have multiple uses.  My new favorite kitchen gadget is a flexible spatula/spoon sometimes known as a spoonula, that scraps, stirs, flips and is heat resistant.  Not any ordinary spoon from the dollar store, you need to pay a little more, but I use this spatula/spoon ALL the time.  Why am I talking about kitchen tools?  Just like in the kitchen, we all want an EDI software package that can do more than one thing, that is…more than just translate EDI data. 

For the purpose of the article, I will be writing under the assumption that the reader has an EDI background.  In our industry, we have to anticipate many complicated scenarios.  What happens if a trading partner wants to send you a flat file and they don’t have the capabilities to send X12?  Can your current  EDI software handle that?  What if they want to send you an XML file or you have to send them an XML file?  Can your current EDI software handle XML?
 
Having software that handles Any-To-Any translation is necessary in today’s technical world.  And right now, this is the number one reason why I LOVE Liaison’s Delta/ECS data integration package.
 
Just one example of what we’ve done with Delta/ECS included taking a traditional X12 EDI 850 Purchase Order that a trading partner sends to its supplier and did the following:
 
 1. Mapped that into an ERP database to automatically create orders.
 2. Created a human-readable text or HTML document that gets emailed to customer service personnel and various sales people.
3. Forwarded the raw EDI data to someone via email that they open with Liaison’s EDI Notepad (free download) so they can see the actual raw EDI data.  
 
And all of this is an event driven process that begins immediately when the 850 hits our system.  
 
On the flip side, we’re also taking spreadsheets from customers and transforming them into X12 EDI 810 Invoices to send to major US retailers.  Many of the retailers’ small vendors were not EDI capable and therefore didn’t have a way to create 810s for their customers.  We’ve been doing this for a number of years and the process works great.   So simple, so EASY!  It allows the big retailer to mandate EDI compliance in a way that is affordable and uncomplicated for the supplier.
 
Another example is a project where we took data from a client’s ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system for the Mexican government who wanted Sales Tax Data sent in XML format on a monthly basis.  All that was given to us was a sample XML file, along with the Section D Annex 24 specifications, which was a huge manual detailing the XML tags and requirements. The project was tricky because XML tag values, the XML header namespace and the file name of the submitted file all had specific requirements. Testing and debugging was further complicated because the XML tag names were all in Spanish. 

These example illustrate some of the flexibility that Delta/ECS offers.  I want software that can transform data, like Clark Kent-to-Superman!  And just like Superman, Delta’s mapping capabilities know almost no limit.  I once had a client that needed to send flat file information, but that data needed some complicated calculations before it could be sent.  Instead of writing a program to do that, we did it right in the map.  Thank you Superman, er Delta.
 
Another big reason why I LOVE Liaison’s Delta/ECS, are the many built-in communications protocols such as e-mail, AS2, AS3, SMTP, POP3, FTP, and sFTP.  Where else can you get all of these options, built-in for such a reasonable price?  We have clients all the time tell us that they looked at comparable software packages that were in the six-figure range!  And then if you need AS2, that is an additional module for more money.  Delta/ECS’ standard package has AS2 built-in and is WELL UNDER six figures.  If I have a client that needs to do all of these communications options, I have it all in one place.  And this has happened time and time again. A client needs AS2 and then they end up using the other protocols for sending and receiving data.
 
Ask us about Delta/ECS.  Better yet, ask our clients about Delta/ECS.  You will be enchanted.

Click below for a case stufy on how Wayfair leveraged the power of Delta/ECS.

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Tags: data transformation, EDI considerations, integration software, EDI software, EDI ROI, enterprise resource planning, EDI document, Liaison Delta/ECS, AS2

GraceBlood LLC Joins the Aurora EDI Alliance

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Jun 19, 2015 @ 11:44 AM


GB logo (2)We are excited to announce that GraceBlood LLC, out of Baltimore, MD, has joined the Aurora EDI Alliance!  GraceBlood is the seventh company to join the Alliance since its inception in the fall of 2011.  We had the opportunity to get to know this group when we all met up in Santa Barbara last fall and we are super excited to have them join us.  With the addition of GraceBlood, we now have a diverse and extensive portfolio of ERP packages we can integrate with, making the Aurora EDI Alliance a powerful ally for small, medium and large businesses alike.

After decades of experience leading her mid-Atlantic based company in representing and implementing ERP, warehouse management and EDI systems, Karen Blood joined with Amy Grace to build a team of experienced industry associates to deliver the specialized B2B/EDI services the supply chain needs to thrive.

Since 2003 GraceBlood has focused exclusively on helping growing distributors, manufacturers and other supply chain clients smoothly and efficiently trade business transactions. Working in multiple industries – automotive, consumer, grocery, health, industrial, logistics and research – GraceBlood delivers consulting and integration services and software; on-premise, hosted or hybrid; supported or managed.

After outgrowing many other platforms, since 2009 GraceBlood has proudly used and represented the offerings of Liaison Technologies, such as Delta/ECS and the Liaison Exchange Network (formerly NuBridges) VAN (Value-Added-Network).  GraceBlood skillfully builds integration solutions for clients across North America running ERPs such as Microsoft Dynamics’ AX & NAV, Infor’s SXe, FACTS & TakeStock, QuickBooks, NetSuite and SAP.

GraceBlood’s Net Promoter Score® has been over 90% for three years, underlying the importance of their vision, “Our clients, our associates and GraceBlood profit from our clients’ ability to strategically embrace B2B electronic transactions and to enthusiastically say 'Yes!' when presented with new challenges in their trading partner relationships.”

Please join us in welcoming Amy, Karen and their team of solution architects to our Alliance family!

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

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Tags: EDI integration, EDI Technology, e-commerce, integration software, EDI software, data integration, EDI provider, enterprise resource planning, ERP integration, electronic data interchange, Liaison Delta/ECS

ComplyLink's Track & Trace: Granola Style

Posted by David McAlister on Fri, May 22, 2015 @ 11:20 AM

ComplyLinkPhoto appears courtesy of JeffreyW.  Have you ever found illicit drugs in your granola bar? More on that later. This year marks my 20th year integrating EDI as a reseller. My audience many times has been both the small to mid-sized companies that did not have their pulse on those fancy tech tools and the big corporations that dictated their EDI compliancy. Our value brings these vendors into the fold with the best-of-the-breed EDI tools along with the fortitude to recommend and the experience to execute. The solutions can include hosting, an EDI translator, integration development tools, and shipping & barcoding packages.

As technology and automation continue to be the rule rather than the exception, organizations demand more and more upon their vendors - everything from vendor managed inventory (EDI 852) to electronic catalogs (EDI 832). Serialization (or Track & Trace) is just another vendor managed opportunity to add value throughout the pipeline, allowing product data to be collected, tracked and traced.  This track and trace activity has exceptional value to minimize loss due to recalls or inventory problems.  

Take the story of the Lady that finds Cocaine in her Granola bar. Really? YES! Last Thursday as a matter of fact...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/07/cocaine-granola-bar_n_7235644.html

ComplyLink by e-SupplyLink has been one of the value options we have sold and supported for many years. With serialization or Track & Trace, ComplyLink would be able to locate that granola bar in its database, provide the history associated with its processing, and provide the particulars of when and where. This information allows organizations to reduce costs in handling such situations to ensure quality of the product. In order for ComplyLink to stay in the game, they strive to keep up with the additional requirements customers impose on their vendors. The Track & Trace feature is just one more value to support the vendor arena.

ComplyLink supports many industries, including retail, automotive, pharmaceutical and consumer product suppliers who require EDI compliant transactions and labels via B2B Integration Platforms such as TrustedLink, Gentran, Trading Partner, Liaison's Delta/ECS or any other EDI translator. They support over 300 different trading partners including Cardinal Health, McKesson, Walmart, Kmart, Target, Sears, JC Penney, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Lowe’s, Meijer, Kohl's, Office Depot, Academy, Macy's, Loblaws Supermarkets, L.L. Bean and too many more to list.

Using their product brings time savings, increased accuracy, and reduced chargebacks. The package includes automated packing, labeling, and shipping software integrated with EDI platforms. Integrations can also include FedEx, UPS, shipping systems, financial, or ERP Order Management platforms. With a flat-file import/export functionality, integrations can be setup to suit an organization's needs based on their business practices.

ComplyLink’s interface significantly reduces data entry time by packing orders with simple look-up tables and click-through screens. ComplyLink prints GS1/UCC-128 bar code shipping labels real-time at the item, carton and pallet level, AND generates accurate EDI 856 Advance Ship Notices and EDI 810 invoices.  Reporting includes the bill of lading, manifest, packing list and carton contents.

If you are looking for well-priced quality products, consider our years of expertise to guide you through product selection and execution. Even if you are considering the hosting route, learn before you make the move and understand your options clearly.  You may find that making the leap into software may just be what your company needs to launch into that mid-sized category.  And be careful when you are tearing into that post-workout granola bar!

Read our latest case study and see how QuiBids.com moved their business to the next level:

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Tags: EDI integration, EDI Technology, EDI considerations, integration software, EDI software, data integration, technology, EDI provider, EDI compliant, enterprise resource planning, ERP integration, vendor managed inventory, Liaison Delta/ECS

Integration Expertise a Must for Webstores

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Apr 24, 2015 @ 01:55 PM

webstore integrationPhoto appears courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik.  Do you have a separate solution for every business process?  There's one company that handles your Webstore, one that that deals with your warehousing, another vendor for your ERP and the list goes on.  No one really knows what the others are doing and you feel like you are in the middle of a major metropolitan spaghetti bowl!  There is another way...

Now that companies are getting over their fear of spending money, integration is going to be more prevalent in the SMB sector.  Not just for the enterprise level anymore, the ability to integrate your business processes, especially Webstores, in the near future will be as important as having a FAX machine was 20 years ago.  Robin Smith from Virtual Logistics writes in his blog, "All in all integrating a shopping cart to an in-house ERP package or 3PL sounds like a relatively simple exercise until you actually get into it. The devil is in the details and that is why integration costs money. If people tell you they can do it for cheap, they don’t know what they are doing or you are going to get very limited functionality."  Therein lies the problem.  Integration, when done correctly, does not come cheap.  

My job is to convince you that it's worth every pretty penny.  I have seen some solutions that claim to be a one-size fits all magic pill, saving you thousands of dollars.  There is no such thing folks.  Different systems deal with different data formats so it's like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.  In browsing some message boards, just a few of the complaints I have seen from these so-called one-size-fits-all integration solutions include: no training in processing Web orders, separate tech support for different functions (i.e. POS support does not talk to Webstore support) no any-to-any data translations, and virtually no knowledge of EDI.  In the end you will have to hire integration experts like the Aurora EDI Alliance or the guys at Virtual Logistics to rescue you.  And you will likely spend more money in the long run trying to go "cheap" than if you just made the investment to begin with.  It’s well worth it to have integration experts spearheading that type of project.     

If there's one thing we have learned from the last few Black Fridays, it's that online shopping is not a fad that is going away.  It's now as much a part of our culture as cell phones.  I am actually surprised (and annoyed) when I visit a Website and you cannot order directly.  As a consumer, I want convenience.  I want to be able to order from my cell phone.  As a business, you should also want convenience (and automation) and that’s exactly what Webstore integration does for you.  Just make sure you that when you are ready to integrate your business processes that you do it right.  Seeking help from the right people, who have expertise in your particular solution(s), will make the difference between disaster and success.

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

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Tags: EDI integration, e-commerce, integration software, EDI software, data integration, benefits of EDI, enterprise resource planning, ERP integration

Aurora Team Biography Series: Kim Zajehowski

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Dec 19, 2014 @ 02:12 PM

2765623465_6150edb742_oPhoto appears courtesy of SharonaGott.  Next up in our Aurora Team Biography Series is Kim Zajehowski, Aurora's Manager of EDI Hosting.  Kim is one of our very talented EDI integration extraordinaires here at Aurora.  She helps me close leads like a superstar with her comprehensive yet easy to understand software demos.  I had the opportunity to ask her some questions and here is a little bit of what she had to say...

She graduated from Bryant College (Bryant University) with her Bachelors Degree of Science in CIS (Computer Information Systems) in 1988.  EDI came very early in her career because her employer had purchased some EDI training.  A quick learner, she was designated as the EDI Coordinator.  As the EDI coordinator, she became responsible for converting a PC based antiquated EDI server to an AS/400 based product known back then as Premenos EDI/400 (now TrustedLinki).  She supported any EDI upgrades and handled Walmart EDI requirements on a regular basis.  She helped design, program, test, and implement a new EDI front end process AND managed to add more trading partners along the way. During that time, she also went back to school to receive her MBA with a concentration in Computer Information Systems in 1992 from Bryant College (Bryant University).

Soon after, she found herself working as the EDI Manager for a pharmaceutical company in Massachusetts. In that role, she would soon lead an EDI initiative to migrate their antiquated PC system to a more robust iSeries TrustedLink product interfacing with Prism and JD Edwards. She was also involved in a software/hardware search for a companywide Internet solution and administering firewall restrictions.  Her longish commute was well worth it, as she loved working there. Alas, after being acquired by another company, the operation moved to Pennsylvania and Kim found herself searching for another opportunity that would allow her to be closer to her family.  She knew Faith (Aurora's President) from past NEMUG (New England Midrange User Group, the local iSeries User Group) meetings and presented her with a resume and credentials.  Faith decided it was a good match and she's been with Aurora ever since.  With 14 years of consulting behind her, she's had the opportunity to be involved in many different projects and has become a very well rounded consultant because of it.  Don't tell her this but we love her.

In our circle of colleagues and clients, Kim is known as the “EDI Queen” or “AS2 Queen” in our field.  She has a knack for understanding not only EDI, but connectivity from AS2, FTP, firewalls, PCs, and VPNs.  She also knows the PC side of things as well and has helped many friends out on PC related questions and training.  Kim considers herself a glorified geek in Aurora's kingdom.  Her clients would say that she is really good with connection issues and researching problems.  They would say that she works hard to solve their issues and is determined to figure things out.  Kim loves learning new things, applying what she has learning and sharing that knowledge with others.  She has a good work ethic, which I personally can attest to as she usually answers my myriad emails within a few minutes.  In addition to her day job, she also teaches part-time as an adjunct professor at a local college, which she really enjoys.  How does she find the time?

On a personal level, she of course loves spending time with her family.  Kim grew up in Rhode Island and still resides there - she says this is where her roots are.  A lover of the outdoors, Kim enjoys hiking, going to the mountains and visiting waterfalls.  She has fallen prey to the latest fitness craze - Zumba.  And she adores her son - going to amusements parks, building things with Legos and playing with their kittens are just a few of the things they enjoy doing together. She volunteers at her son's school for many events and class trips, as she likes being part of his world. Charities and causes that are close to her heart include anything having to do with animals (local shelters, ASCPA, Humane society, Animal Rescue League) as well as the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen.  She has lost several family members to the disease and prays for a cure.  When asked how she wants to be remembered, she says, "Good mom, good sense of humor, fun to be around, hard worker," in that order.

Click below for a case study on how Wayfair utilized the Delta/ECS package to optimize their EDI operations.

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Tags: data transformation, EDI considerations, integration software, data integration, benefits of EDI, EDI compliant, EDI education, enterprise resource planning, ERP integration, electronic data interchange, Liaison Delta/ECS

EDI Lessons Learned

Posted by Faith Lamprey on Fri, Dec 05, 2014 @ 01:47 PM

EDI LessonsPhoto appears courtesy of Colored Pencil Magazine.  A painful, almost disastrous lesson learned...don't let this happen to you!

Recently a customer in the financial industry had their EDI server crash.  They moved quickly to set up a new server and reload it with the requisite software.   However, they had problems with their backup/recover software.  They signed into the EDI software website and downloaded their licensed software from there only to discover that the software was at a higher version then they were running as they had not had the time to install the latest version that they had gotten a while back.  Then they contacted us in a panic (as always happens, we were contacted after hours, but someone was still in the office and took the call).  Their backup software finally allowed them to recover and get back to normal.  We checked our vault of saved versions and had that version (and extra space was here) so we sent it to them for future recovery use.

The lesson learned from all of this?  The customer is now keeping a back-up of the latest version of the software they are running in a separate folder on the server and on a backup server.  They also promised to schedule the upgrade to the latest version. 

To remind yourself how important the EDI software is to your company, figure out the % of orders (by volume and $) that is being processed by EDI.  That should make you be very careful to take care of it the same way you do your ERP software.  Regular backups stored on multiple servers, password protection, and keeping the software up to date at the latest version are all critical factors in this effort.

Big kudos to our client and to our employees for reacting quickly to something that could have had a much worse outcome!

Click below to view a video on Thinking About EDI "Outside the Box" and become a rock star within your organization.

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Tags: EDI integration, EDI Technology, EDI considerations, integration software, EDI software, data integration, data security, enterprise resource planning, ERP integration

Common Misconceptions about On-Premise EDI Software

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Jun 20, 2014 @ 11:36 AM

on-premise softwarePhoto appears courtesy of William Warby.  I have a customer using a web-based EDI solution and they are just too big for it.  They are currently weighing their options.  But it got me thinking, how many organizations are out there using a solution that is really not working for them?  Reasons why might include perceived complexity, cost concerns, integration limitations, and lack of technical staff.  This article will focus on those four objections to making the move from web-based EDI to on-premise EDI software.

I will start with cost since that is probably the most common reason I hear for not wanting to put in on-premise software.  This is where I tell them to think long term.  For the sake of comparison, let's say they are paying $300 per month (under 10 trading partners), they could hypothetically have on-premise software that would pay for itself inside of two years (not including mapping).  Meanwhile, they would save valuable time (time = money) not having to rekey everything into their order processing system, have a system that is seamless and automated, which can only help their business in the long term.  

Lack of technical staff being a stumbling block to on-premise bliss is a big myth.  Most software vendors and resellers also offer professional services so that you do not have to have ANY technical staff whatsoever.  When my company sells on-premise software, we give our client the option to have us train them to manage the software and do the mapping or pay us to do it.  In the latter, we act as their technical staff and they only need to pay the bill.  That being said, if you put that much trust into third party for your EDI management, make sure you get references.

The complexity issue is one that is not so cut and dry.  The reality is that you can construct your solution to be a simple POs (EDI 850) in, Invoices (EDI 810) and Ship Notices (EDI 856) out scenario OR you can have multiple systems communicating with each other that include marketing automation (Hubspot, Marketo), webstore (Shopify, Magento) and ERP (SAP, Ross) - in one beautiful streamlined solution that will wow your customers (whether you are B2B or B2C) and competitors alike.  The key is finding the right tools and the right architects to help you build a solution that will help you meet your business goals.  The bottom line is complex does not necessarily mean difficult.

The last misconception is not so much of a misconception as it is a hurdle.  There are certain accounting systems (the kind you can buy in a box at Costco) that are just not integration friendly.  By "integration friendly," I mean there is no clear file format accessible to bring data and out of your system such as XML or flat file to integrate with a powerful package such as Laison's Delta/ECS.  Some of these turnkey accounting software packages do have relationships with EDI solutions providers for integration options, but you are left with very little options.  Don't back yourself into a corner.  If you already have, like many before you, at some point you will need to invest in a real ERP system.  This will open up your world to countless possibilities when it comes to data integration.  

As you can see, having on-premise integrated software does not have to be a pipe dream.  The right tools, the right help, and the right mindset can make that dream into reality.  Gone are the 6 figure integration packages of 20 years ago.  Today, on-premise integration software is accessible to even the small-to-medium (SMB) business.  Even if you don't want to host it in your facility due to hardware requirements, etc., you can always install your licensed software on servers in the Cloud through channels such as Amazon's Web Services or Rackspace.  There are so many different ways of achieving data integration greatness in today's market, there are really no more excuses why anyone should be excluded.

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

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Tags: EDI integration, EDI considerations, e-commerce, integration software, EDI software, data integration, benefits of EDI, EDI ROI, EDI provider, EDI options, enterprise resource planning, EDI expense, ERP integration

Think You're Ready for Data Integration? Take this Quiz

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, May 09, 2014 @ 11:56 AM

data integration quizPhoto appears courtesy of Rhonda Oglesby.  As I have said many times, in many blogs - if you're processing more than 20 transactions per day then you should be integrated.  There are other considerations however when you're thinking of pursuing an integration solution.  Take this short quiz to find out if you're really ready to integrate!

1. Is your ERP/accounting system integration friendly?  If you're using an "out of the box" accounting system, the first thing you should do is consider buying a more robust package. Keep in mind however, there are a lot of ERP packages out there that will not easily integrate with a middleware solution, even one as flexible as Liaison's Delta/ECS.  Some ERP packages have relationships with specific software vendors and you may find yourself steered in that direction.  Buy an ERP system that will allow you to keep your options open.

2. Do you have technical staff who can manage the software?  You need to decide if you want to manage the software and mapping on your own or if you want your software vendor and/or solution provider to handle it for you.  If you are going to pay someone else to do it, be sure to get everything in writing when it comes to maintenance, support and upgrades.

3. Is your hardware up to date?  It's going to be tough to find a compatible solution if you are still running Windows 95 on a 32 bit server.  It just makes sense to upgrade your hardware while you are going through the process of upgrading your ERP and/or integration software.

4. Have you documented your business processes and data flows?  This question speaks to the fact that you need to know what you want the software to do before you buy it.  In other words, what are you trying to accomplish?   

5.  Have you established long term goals?  Let's say right now you have 6 trading partners, all high volume.  You don't want to buy a package that locks you into a 10 trading partner maximum when you could be adding 5 more trading partners within 2 years.  

6.  Have you determined a budget?  EDI and/or data integration software can run from the thousands to over hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Set your budget, and be up front with your solution architects.  Don't waste your time looking at a $15,000 package when your budget is only $5,000.  You're not getting that $15k package for $5k.  Be realistic.

If you answered yes to the above questions, you may be ready for an integration solution.  For more information about data integration, click below to download our whitepaper on what getting data integration right can do for your business.  Or contact us for a no-obligation consultation - we are happy to offer guidance and advice on choosing a data integration solution.

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Tags: EDI integration, EDI considerations, EDI software, data integration, EDI Implementation, EDI options, enterprise resource planning, ERP integration

Aurora EDI Alliance's Best Practices for Integration

Posted by Shandra Locken on Fri, Mar 07, 2014 @ 11:01 AM

data integration best practicesPhoto appears courtesy of Social Innovation Camp.  We have offered a lot of advice about integration over the two and a half years that we have been blogging.  Rather than make you look for those pearls of wisdom, we thought it would be nice to create a handy digest for data integration best practices.  For you integration veterans out there, if you have any tidbits of advice you'd like to share, please feel free to comment.  We love hearing from our readers!

  • "It's not uncommon today to find a small company selling artisan toffee to the big retailers using EDI, all while also selling direct to consumers using an e-commerce site AND successfully marketing using social media.  The difference between them and those on the cutting edge is that the latter has all of these processes integrated."  ~ January 24, 2014
  • "My recommendation is that if you're processing more than 20 transactions per day, then you should be integrated."  ~ March 15, 2013
  • "Even if you are using EDI software or EDI services that you purchased within the past 5 years, you owe it to your company to investigate what is out there now.  You will be surprised how much more efficient your EDI operations can be, and most importantly, how much your bottom line will love it."  ~ February 1, 2013
  • "The second biggest consideration for an integration solution includes engaging with a mentor like myself.  Along with my expertise, I am backed by Aurora EDI Alliance partners and the manufacturer's professional services team to establish best practices, training and support for your integration project to move you in the right direction." ~ January 18, 2013
  • "The point is whether or not you use your solution to its fullest capability and exploit its strengths.  It's easy to sit in your cubicle and criticize...but it's much more effective to work with your solution and help it live up to its potential."  ~ October 12, 2012
  • "While you're considering the investment to integrate, reevaluating your accounting system may not be a bad idea either.  Will it meet your long term business goals?  Will it grow with you or will you outgrow it?  Many of the traditional EDI software proposals we submit are for companies who are also replacing their ERP and/or accounting system."  ~ September 28, 2012
  • "Make sure that you are comparing apples to apples.  For example, if one EDI software package offers built-in AS2 and one doesn't, how much will it be to add it?  Hint: Don't get so hung up on pricing that you end up with a solution that becomes more of a problem than a solution! Always think long term and look at the big picture."  May 11, 2012
  • "I have always believed that ERP folks are experts at what they do – Enterprise Resource Planning.  And EDI folks are experts at what they do – Electronic Data Interchange or integration between systems.  Leaving the EDI projects to the folks who construct the real world solutions every day allows you to focus on what YOU do best."  ~ May 4, 2012
  • "Look around your company to see how many people are receiving spreadsheets or files from others (customers, suppliers, etc.) and spending hours manually manipulating them to get the data they need.  Often they turn around and key that data into the ERP system!  This is the kind of manual process that slows down production and keep companies from growing."  ~ November 3, 2011

We hope you have enjoyed our compilation of data integration best practices.  This group is comprised of some of the best EDI and data integration experts the industry has to offer so this valuable guidance comes from many years of experience and expertise.

Want to learn more about data integration?  Download this free white paper on what getting data integration right can do for your business.

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Tags: EDI integration, EDI considerations, integration software, data integration, enterprise resource planning

Channel Partner Collaboration a Must for Integration Specialists

Posted by Shandra Locken on Tue, Oct 08, 2013 @ 06:53 PM

Integration Technology VendorsGuest blogging for the Aurora EDI Alliance is Nathan Camp of Liaison Technologies.  Photo appears courtesy of Somewhereintheworldtoday.

When I first started working with customers on data integration projects fifteen years ago, the work was hard. We had to convert structured B2B/EDI transactions into a specific format the ERP vendor made available. I looked forward to the day when standardization would sweep the landscape and make these connections much more simple and widely available.

I was half wrong. I got the widely available connection access part right, but integration work is now much more complex. Businesses of all sizes are working with an ever broadening host of systems and services, rippling away from the core, all-in-one hole left by what used to be promised as a single vendor ERP presence.  

 Examples of the systems that must be connected today include:

1. Marketing and Sales

  • CRM systems, like Sales Force, are now the center of new business leads and deals

  • Marketing Automation systems, like HubSpot and Marketo, tie prospect and client interactions into measurable reporting and nurturing processes

  • Shopping cart/eCommerce packages process new client data through both CRM and Marketing Automation systems for cross and upsell promotion activities

2. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)

  • Financial and general ledger details may be populated from either the shopping cart or from the CRM system or even EDI

  • Sensitive data, like credit cards, personally identifiable information (PII) like social security or client account numbers, now need to be made safe before it can be used for customer service and support

  • Geo-coded tax details may be provided by software systems like Avalara

  • Warehouse management software will be used for pick and pack processes and bills of lading. This may be tied to an internal warehouse system, or it could be used to keep track of fulfillment handled by a 3PL provider

  • Shipping/tracking services can be called to complete GS1-128 barcodes and to provide shipment details back to the shopping cart system

  • Inventory systems will be vital for current stock on-hand details to be sent to any other distribution or dot com (Amazon, Wayfair) platform

3. Web site design and shopping cart synchronization

  • While most of this development falls under Sales/Marketing, it’s also vital to keep catalog syndication and inventory details updated so only in-stock, current products are displayed for sale

  • Payment gateways for credit card processing need to be tied to ERP and PCI systems for data security and financial transaction processing

Consider how many of these systems you currently have in your organization, and if they are tied together. Evaluate your expertise around each of these sub-systems. How many alternative solutions exist for each broad category? Got this number in your head? Now imagine how rapidly this number of system permutations continues to grow. As recent trends in ERP system sales suggest, there is a shift from on-premise, big 10 ERP systems towards Cloud delivery. Further erosion of processes which used to be securely attached as modules to the big ERP systems are also rapidly being replaced by agile competitors with faster speed to solution delivery and lower price points. As the shift away from centralized ERP systems and modules escalates, there will be a growing disconnect between business IT system purchases and the knowledge base to support them.

Cloud and SaaS-delivered software options are rapidly decreasing barriers for the entry of new products and services to the market. And with on-demand service licensing, it’s now even easier to add new systems and services as-needed. Now, businesses of all sizes are sharing real-time inventory feeds for just in time supply chains and for drop-ship fulfillment. They are also adding data integration between CRM systems and marketing automation tools to win new business and reward loyal customers. As information becomes a shared resource across internal systems, these businesses are analyzing their data to uncover hidden trends to either avoid or exploit.

With so many new and creative technologies being introduced each year, and the rise of APIs allowing data to flow back and forth from system to system, the greatest challenge for every system integrator is keeping up with this expansion of integration touch points. Going quickly are the days where expertise in a few EDI transaction sets and ERP integration formats was enough to run a professional consulting business. Today, clients are so rapidly expanding their integration touch points, it’s harder for any single company to dwell deep enough in any given technology to gain expertise. What is really required today is for channel partner programs to be built with a collaborative nature in mind.

Channel partner management has always been focused on finding the most efficient ways to get a vendor’s product or service into the hands of a client (it still is). The client dictates how they purchase and consume these products and services. It has been up to the technology vendor to find and train their partners that filled special roles and capabilities that were complementary to the vendors direct delivery capabilities. This ensured that they had partners and paths to get the product to the client as quickly as possible in the desired manner. Today’s channel programs are metamorphosing in response to the myriad options of integration necessities. The biggest challenge and change I have witnessed recently is the adoption of partner-to-partner collaboration. I will highlight three examples where Liaison Technologies, Inc. partners are working in tandem to solve very complex needs together.

(1) Partner to Partner Talent Sharing

The Aurora EDI Alliance is by nature an example of a collaborative group of individual companies working together to solve client needs. Their clients are in retail, fashion, automotive, manufacturing, services, food, logistics, and medical supply/devices. But, this collective organization came across a new business that had very specific knowledge needs around HIPAA transactions. The business model for this new client is to provide medical transportation services, with billings going to the insurance companies instead of the care recipients. The Aurora EDI Alliance is a team of integration specialists, but when it came to working with HIPAA payer/provider data interactions, they needed to enlist the help of another data solution provider with hands-on experience. Early in the discussions with the medical transportation service provider, Liaison Technologies encouraged The Aurora EDI Alliance to enlist the help of a fellow Liaison partner, and that is when Hughes Systems Group became a vital, contributing member to the solution design team. Hughes Systems Group’s services team has been involved with dozens of HIPAA implementations over the years for medical insurance companies, private and public provider agencies, and medical supply and device manufacturers. It was precisely this blend of technical know-how and experience, and the joint solution support of both partners that made selecting the new HIPAA project to be led by Aurora Technologies so easy.

(2) Building It Better

When integration through the “tried and true” proves to be too expensive, cumbersome because existing modules are running on ancient technologies, or is simply no longer supported, it becomes necessary to build a new approach.

When offered the opportunity to help clients evaluate their existing EDI integration solutions for MS Dynamics GP (aka Great Plains), Liaison combined the expertise of two different partners and have co-created a new and unique solution. Copeland Buhl is a full service tax and accounting practice that also specializes in MS Dynamics GP services. Their financial process expertise is matched with their deep GP system knowledge. Liaison also brought Virtual Logistics Inc. to the design process as well. Virtual Logistics Inc. has provided EDI integration for over 450 clients in their years of service to well over 40 different ERP systems. They are also deeply involved in extending their clients’ data integration connections to marketing automation systems, business intelligence, and eCommerce.

Working through client design discussions, I kept thinking to myself how the combination of Copeland Buhl and Virtual Logistics Inc. was like being at a rock concert. You can have a pretty good concert with a set of drums, a guitar, and two talented artists hard at work (an example is the band White Stripes). The ability to walk EDI into the system, build in safety checks, use future-proofing design elements, and talk through outflow response documents end-to-end is magical, and only possible with deep skill sets and experience.

With the need to redesign from scratch, but based upon years of combined knowledge of what works best, can easily be reproduced, and streamlines common data processing issues for existing GP users (double entry, warehouse management software module requirements for ship notices and barcode creation), the three organizations have created a new system and delivery process that will enable GP clients to work with new data extensions they never were able to consider before.

(3) Creating New Capabilities

One of my favorite definitions of “genius” is simply “seeing what is not yet there.” Often, these moments of epiphany are based upon built up combinations of events, discussions, past training, and inquisitiveness. Robin Smith of Virtual Logistics Inc. studied anthropology while at university. Deeply pressed into his psyche at a younger age was a tactical way to collect, view, and make sense of evidence (data). Robin has been talking about the three dimension viewing of data for years as an important stepping stone in making information meaningful for more people.

As Liaison expanded our capabilities to receive, manipulate, and respond to data, Robin seized on the concepts, and found another solution provider to combine data into something very new and unique for his clients. Below is an example where Virtual Logistics Inc. can now take order details collected over time and processed through the Liaison Delta and ECS software, run another data translation process to collect and present the important details over to the mapping overlay system to generate the exquisitely functional and rich reports as documented below.

Sales activity map

Example of eCommerce Performance Tracking

Liaison is quite proud of the amazing things our partners are doing by working together. With the Increasing use of hybrid solutions where both on-premise and in-Cloud models are being used to access, use, and store data, it is becoming even more important for software/SaaS vendors to work closely with their partners and their clients to identify and implement the best matching Web services and servers, database options, Internet services, encryption technology, and security protocols that will best serve our clients’ requirements and needs.

Click below for a case study on how the Aurora EDI Alliance helped AliMed, a medical supply company, optimize their EDI operations using the Liaison Delta and ECS integration software package.

 Click Now for AliMed Case Study

Tags: data transformation, EDI integration, EDI Technology, data integration, EDI provider, data security, enterprise resource planning, SaaS