by CData Arc Marketing | September 02, 2019

3 Strategies for Integrating EDI with Back-End Systems

Once you exchange an EDI message with your trading partners, you'll want to keep a record of the transaction in one or more back-end systems.

You may want to store purchase orders in your ERP, add invoices to your accounting system, subtract order information from your inventory system, or notify your sales representatives about new orders through your CRM.

How do you integrate your EDI solutions with the requisite back-end systems, which might be located on-premise or in the cloud?

You have three choices:

  • Manually enter the data
  • Perform a full EDI integration using multiple tools
  • Employ an end-to-end EDI integration solution

This post will describe each option, it's pros and cons, and when you'd want to select each.

1. Manual Data Entry

When organizations first start using EDI to communicate with trading partners, they often turn to a managed EDI service called a Value-Added Network (VAN) to perform the necessary data mapping and file transfer.

Some VANs provide a Web EDI service that allows you to exchange order information with your partners via forms on a web portal. But these forms don't integrate with your back-end systems; if you go this route, you'll manually enter the data into these web forms by hand.

Manual data entry is a cheap and easy way to start tracking your EDI transactions when you have a limited number of partners and a low volume of EDI transactions.

But it's also an error prone process, and because you'll need to hire additional people to perform this task as trading volumes grow, manual data entry quickly becomes expensive.

2. Multi-Tool EDI Integration

A fully integrated EDI integration process eliminates the errors and costs that come with manual data entry.

Traditional automated EDI solutions require customers to use separate tools to map & translate EDI data, then transfer files to their partners. Once documents are transferred among partners, you'll need to perform an additional, intermediary translation step to integrate the data into back-end systems.

This translation is performed by transforming the EDI document into an intermediary format, such as CSV, and then importing it into a back-end application, such as an ERP.

This process typically requires a variety of tools, including:

  • A managed file transfer (MFT) solution to securely send and receive EDI documents
  • EDI document translation tools that allow you to turn EDI documents into business format
  • Central data stores or a data warehouse for storage and integration*
  • And back-end integration tools to pull the translated data into your back-end systems

One option is to take the incoming document, store it in a central database, or data warehouse, and then use an extract, translate, load (ETL) process to import the data into back-end systems from the data store. The advantage of this approach comes in the value of data warehousing and backup.

These methods can be used with direct EDI tools or VANs and are typically performed in a batch process.

Challenges of This Approach

Troubleshooting — Multi-step EDI back-end integrations that use a range of solutions to handle various parts of the process can cause troubleshooting headaches. When problems arise, the culprit could be anything from a translator not including a field to a batch process that fails to perform a particular validation. Having multiple tools clouds visibility, making it difficult to find and fix errors.

Validation: Back-End Integration — EDI data requires numerous validations before it can be imported. For example, if your organization wants to insert a PO into NetSuite, you'll have to first ensure that the customer exists in NetSuite and that the customer has the requisite ID. Each line item in the PO also needs a specific ID, and so on. All of these validations can cause failures or errors.

Cross-Team Coordination — The big challenge here is that many larger organizations have separate teams to manage EDI and their back-end systems. Your organization will need to ensure your EDI and back-end system teams communicate closely to identify any issues. The integrations team will need to understand enough about EDI to perform the necessary validations. And the EDI team must ensure EDI messages contain the necessary data. Both teams need to monitor the integration process.

Managing Upgrades & Security Risks — Managing upgrades to all these integrated systems can be a mess. The more systems you have in place, the more maintenance and upgrades are required. In addition, you'll need to be wary of security risks as systems age. In particular, many EDI systems are legacy solutions that haven't been updated for years, causing security concerns, not only in the EDI systems themselves, but also to your back-end systems and common business applications. That's just one reason why EDI modernization is so important.

Incremental Improvement

Despite the complexities inherent in multi-step EDI integrations involving separate tools, many organizations that have already implemented an EDI process like this may want to largely stick with it because it can be difficult and time consuming to re-do all the mappings to unify the entire process. In this case, you can improve elements of the process or add new partners and document transactions, etc. by implementing modern solutions to handle various parts of the process, such as secure MFT via newer protocols like AS4.

3. End-to-End EDI Solution

The challenges inherent in traditional EDI to back-end integration solutions mean that if you do not have an existing EDI integration solution, you'll likely want a modern, end-to-end EDI integration solution.

With such an end-to-end tool, you can trade documents with your trading partners, easily translate them into any file format you like, and import data from those documents into your date stores and back-end systems — all with a single, simple solution.

As with the full EDI integration process described above, you will still need to perform the same validation steps as data is entered into the back-end system and the teams that manage EDI and the back-end systems will have to collaborate in the initial setup process to get things working correctly.

And because these solutions perform all necessary integration tasks, they improve visibility. Both the EDI teams and those responsible for the back-end systems can see what's going on across the entire system in one central dashboard.

Unified EDI solutions are also often more flexible than multi-solution integrations because they provide a common translation layer, rather than requiring you to customize the translation for *every *specific back-end system. In other words, when you want to integrate EDI with a new system or application, you won't have to redo the entire translation step.

As a result, end-to-end EDI solutions are more scalable and easier to maintain.

Try CData Arc

Looking to improve your EDI process? Whether you're looking for a complete EDI solution or a flexible component that can handle a piece of your EDI, give CData Arc a try.

CData Arc is a flexible, end-to-end EDI integration platform that can also handle standalone MFT, EDI mapping & translation and back-end integration or connect your entire EDI process to your back-end systems. CData Arc lets you easily connect EDI to 100+ business applications, including CRM, ERP, marketing and accounting applications as well as popular databases, data warehouses, payment systems and much more! All through a drag & drop, modern visual UI that requires no-code.

And it's highly flexible, complete with a full developer API so you can extend it any way you like.

Download a free trial of CData Arc today.