by CData Arc Marketing | August 19, 2019

How to Manage Your Growing EDI Partner Network

how to scale your edi

Recently, we considered the costly, risk-prone path most growing businesses take with EDI as a result of their reactions to trading partner demands. Reacting to a customer demand is nothing new — it's what businesses do. Unfortunately, just responding to ad hoc partner demands creates an inefficient and expensive set of duplicate solutions and services.

This article provides guidance to help you avoid or solve many of the most common and easily avoidable EDI challenges.

Who We're Talking About

The pattern of adopting ad hoc EDI can happen to any business, but it most often affects companies:

  • Who are emerging ecommerce operators or supply-side trading partners, often focused on Internet sales
  • Recently ‘introduced' to EDI or just beginning an EDI practice
  • Dipping their toes in the water, onboarding one EDI partner at a time
  • Who must comply with big retailers to grow sales as they enter established markets
  • Likely consider EDI as a one-off initiative for each partner, not a comprehensive strategy

For these companies, there's a familiar process that leads to eminently avoidable inefficiencies and high costs. If this sounds like your business, you may find relief in a unified EDI solution.

Step 1: The Reaction

Finding themselves with a growing core business, trading partners begin with a single large trading partner that instructs them to use an EDI portal or gateway as the main mechanism for retrieving purchase orders, creating shipping documents, printing labels, and sending invoices.

The reactive process works well for one customer. Everyone in the office is excited about the accomplishment. But a few weeks in, things start to change; that EDI accomplishment turns out to be less of a complete connection and more of a process. The process, as it turns out, involves more than fulfilling orders. There's a never-ending cycle of uploading and downloading files, which takes up more time than it took to do the whole thing manually.

Step 2: Collecting Portals

Finally getting the hang of things, uploading and downloading files, the team is again excited about the accomplishment. Reacting to a growing base of customers with EDI requirements, the plan becomes to simply ‘repeat the experiment.'

Unfortunately, each customer uses a different portal. Reacting in the same manner which seemingly brought initial success, the new-to-EDI trading partner adds portal after portal, building what looks like a collection of successes, evidenced by growing sales.

Step 3: Putting down the shovel

What appeared to be a string of successes is beginning to look more like an experiment, and it's out of control. There are multiple portals involved; some are free while others are not, and some are manual, while others allow for uploads and downloads. Regardless, there's plenty of manual work — nothing is truly automated.

The excitement has left, and the set of EDI solutions now seems more like work than an accomplishment. By the time most trading partners get to this step, they've dug themselves into a pretty deep hole. It's time to put down the shovel.

Recognizing the Threat

You can identify the processes that lead to avoidable inefficiencies and high costs — if you look for the clues.

1. Manual Processes

The first clue is if the solution is largely a manual process — in short, if you have to do something on a regular basis. EDI, while managed and maintained, should remain largely *invisible *across the organization. EDI processes should not have to be ‘kicked off.' Uploads and downloads should not involve people. Lastly, and this might seem to be obvious at this point, adding portals adds to your workflow.

Is most of the time spent on your EDI solution used to retrieve purchase orders, create shipping documents, print labels, send invoices, upload & download, and run manual batch processes?

If so, you've got the wrong solution.

2. Time-Consuming Complexities

EDI should never be a daily struggle to maintain.

If you struggle to manage even basic operations, like logging in and logging out of multiple systems in order to execute a series of operations, then you don't have a solution; you have a problem. The true benefit of a real EDI solution is that it frees time for other tasks. The most important aspect of EDI is automation that brings simplicity. When it's time for the invoice to go out, it goes out — without intervention or complexities.

If your team is continually struggling through complex processes, particularly manual processes, then they may as well be stuffing envelopes, entering data manually or sending email.

3. Increasingly Higher Costs — No Scale

Increasing costs are the hallmark of a non-solution. As business grows, so do the costs associated with many web portals. Setting aside the increased labor costs with the aforementioned manual processing and complex process mapping, when transaction costs increase as your business grows, you've got a non-solution. When your new portal ‘partner' advises there is an upgrade and another increase in monthly fees associated with the use of the portal, then you've got the wrong solution.

True EDI solutions are scalable. They accommodate increasing volumes without increasing costs, allowing you to achieve increasing efficiency as you add new partners and move more and more transactions to automated EDI processes.

A Better, More Intentional Approach

How do you go about removing multiple portals and duplication of effort? Can you meet current needs and scale to accommodate future needs, without increasing costs? And what path reduces the disparate, disconnected, manual processes, and replaces them with a single, integrated, and maintenance-free process.

It's possible to achieve all of these goals, but takes a purposeful, end-to-end strategy, built on a unified EDI solution.

Even if you began your EDI journey as reactions to ad-hoc customer demands and have duplicate EDI portals and tools; you can recover by defining your EDI practice and repeatable processes.

The result is a more comprehensive, big picture approach which can be used to create a unified, value-driving EDI process.

1. Identify Your Trading Partners

Identify all of the partners you currently trade with using EDI, *and *those you would consider onboarding into EDI. Identify all of them, even if you are not trading EDI documents with them today. It may be tempting to continue a "top-tier" approach, only working with the biggest partner, but it's vital to implement a more “First-in-First-out" approach, in which you capture the benefits of EDI and often speed up onboarding with the largest partners in the process.

2. Identify Your EDI Transactions

Identify the transactions you *already *exchange with some of your trading partners. It's also important to list those transactions that your trading partners *want *to exchange with you and with others. If you work to understand those transactions, you can often find a real strategic advantage in your EDI practice that many companies overlooked.

3. Identify Prospective Partners

Identify the prospective trading partners and the transactions they exchange. If you supply products to a specific retailer, understanding prospective trading partners in that same retail channel will help you build your EDI practice and help your business grow. Coming into discussions with new potential trading and retail partners with the ability to quickly adopt their EDI transactions makes those discussions far smoother and more favorable.

4. Create a Defined, Repeatable process

Understanding how you work with your trading partners will help identify your integration points. For example, if you process Purchase Orders, you inherently understand that they are all processed, for the most part, the very same way. If you ship on behalf of others, the shipments are, for the most part, processed the very same way. And when it comes time to send invoices, they're also processed, for the most part, the same way.

Grouping similar transactions together will help you identify repeatable processes within your organization to automate, with exceptions managed through business rules. And, the business rules themselves become repeatable processes that can be applied to similar scenarios.

5. Adopt a Unified Solution Set to Facilitate Your EDI Process

With a defined, repeatable process in mind, you'll need to adopt a set of complementary EDI tools or a unified EDI solution to manage that process and handle the transactions and partners you wish to onboard. This is finally putting the horse back before the cart, in stark contrast to the path of adopting ad hoc partner portals and building processes around those portals.

What a Unified Solution Looks Like

EDI solutions vary, but there are key components required within every EDI system, whether from unified solutions or a suite of complementary components:

  • EDI Mapping — A transformation component where translation takes place -
  • Connectors or APIs — An integration path into the enterprise, one without manual intervention
  • As2 or Managed File Transfer (MFT) — A communication solution to exchange files with partners

The unified solution must also have the following qualities.

  • Plug & play integration without human intervention
  • It should be fee-simple and have free support
  • It should leverage and support your existing business process


Be careful as you investigate your EDI solution. Avoid falling into the into an ‘ad hoc' trap or a one-off solution that meets one need, neglecting the rest. Be selective; your EDI solution should help your business by freeing up time, not burdening your team. Talk strategically with your team about your EDI strategy and then talk about your strategy with your solutions provider. Your EDI vendor should be able to supplement your business and partner strategy, adding to the discussion to help you develop a cohesive, unified EDI process.

Solving EDI Onboarding Challenges

The EDI onboarding process is fraught with traps and perils. But you don't have to get snared. In our white paper on EDI onboarding, we cover how to mitigate the worst risks to your partner EDI onboarding and solve all the most common challenges.

Download EDI Onboarding White Paper

Looking for a unified EDI solution to help smooth your onboarding process? Consider CData Arc, an end-to-end integration solution for EDI mapping & translation, managed file transfer (AS2 & more) and EDI back-end integration.

Learn More About CData Arc