Deciding to implement an electronic document interchange (EDI) solution requires investment, but when an EDI solution is a good fit, it becomes a cornerstone of your business’s success. EDI facilitates many processes that make competing in the modern retail and supply chain industry possible.
EDI systems vary and choosing the wrong one can be costly. You don’t want to spend all the hours and efforts required of rolling out an EDI solution just to find that it isn’t updated consistently, it can’t keep up with your needs or it magnifies IT costs. If it’s too complicated and your EDI coordinator disappeared after winning the lottery, you’d never be able to train in the next associate. If you’re new to EDI, you might not know just how many business problems it can help to solve until after you’ve invested in the wrong one.
Whether you’re replacing an existing EDI system or evaluating EDI for the first time, here are a few things to consider:
- Get executive buy-in. Getting buy-in from your executive team or management is vital -they’re the ones who sign off on the expenses. Arm yourself with data to make the most compelling argument. If you’re searching for a new EDI solution, it’s likely you either don’t have it now or what you have now is lacking a vital need such as order processing speed, advanced functionalities, volume capacity, or inventory visibility. Before moving forward, identify the bottlenecks, pain points, inefficiencies and lost opportunities. Illustrating where your competition is succeeding should also be included in your review.
- Audit stakeholders and resources. What software and systems does your company already have? That could be ERP, WMS, accounting, content management, maybe even an existing EDI solution that isn’t keeping up. What can your existing network and infrastructure support? EDI system capabilities and limitations vary. Finding out what you have helps narrow down what works with existing resources and can prevent disappointment later.
- Create a list of necessities. Your research should reveal what you need to solve for now, and should help point you to where you need to be – six months, a year, even five years into the future. For example, eliminating manual data entry, adding drop ship capabilities, improving inventory visibility or streamlining order to cash processes. Consider categorizing or ranking capabilities that are “mandatory,” “discretionary,” or for a “future upgrade.”
- Identify viable solutions. Compare the list of requirements you made to available EDI solutions. Each system has differing strengths for functionality, scalability and reliability. Onboarding trading partners and speed to value varies widely from system to system. Some EDI solutions are standalone, while others have a suite of supplemental add-ons to swiftly augment capabilities as your business needs change. Part of your consideration should take into account the pros and cons of a traditional in-house EDI solution, a cloud-based EDI solution or a hybrid solution.
- Calculate total cost of ownership (TCO). The short term and long term costs for each type of EDI system vary. A traditional in-house EDI solution has greater costs up front that will diminish over time, but may increase again as the company grows and more staffing is needed in the EDI department. An outsourced, cloud-based solution requires less up front investment, and has a monthly, quarterly or yearly subscription cost, but even with the fees may cost much less than a traditional EDI solution over time as your company grows. With a cloud-based solution, the costs of infrastructure maintenance, upgrading and staffing are strictly the financial responsibility of the EDI cloud provider, such as SPS Commerce. For a hybrid EDI solution, accountability for monthly costs and infrastructure investments depends on division of responsibilities.
- Read reviews and get referrals. There are already customers out there that use the EDI solutions you’re considering (unless it’s a brand new, unproven EDI provider, in which case buyer beware). Find some of the real life business-to-business customer experiences with the EDI provider to find out how it has performed for others. Go beyond the glowing testimonials that might be displayed on their website. Ask the provider directly how long have they been working with NAV, how many customers they have and contact information to get in touch with an existing customer, especially those that are running Microsoft Dynamics NAV. Search for tech review sites or user groups like NAVUG and see what others are saying online about the EDI solutions on your list. Ask your trading partners or logistics partners what EDI solutions they’ve had success with. If a business with similar systems and needs as your company has added value with the EDI system under consideration, there’s a good chance it will work well for you too.
- Outline a practical implementation plan. Timing for implementing and rolling out an EDI system is important for minimizing disruption. The roll out is the end-result, though – the actual process of implementation has many tasks. Connecting to other systems, converting and migrating existing data, modifying old processes or creating new ones, training employees, ensuring compliance with trading partners, etc. requires a detailed project plan, milestones and timeline expectations. This process to EDI rollout success will likely be measured in months or quarters, not days or weeks.
The process of selecting and implementing an EDI solution takes time and will have a cost. Even so, when you’re empowered to serve your customers and grow your business, benefits of implementing a new EDI solution will be worth the effort and resources.