Streamline EDI Using A Managed Service

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1 Streamline EDI Using A Managed Service Simplifying Electronic Data Interchange Research Perspective Sponsored by Aligning Business and IT To Improve Performance Ventana Research 2603 Camino Ramon, Suite 200 San Ramon, CA (925) Copyright Ventana Research 2012 Do Not Redistribute Without Permission

2 EDI: An Essential Business Tool Many companies have invested heavily in automation to make business processes more efficient, speed their execution and substantially reduce the incidence of errors. One common automation tool is electronic data interchange (EDI), which passes transaction information from one company to another without human intervention. EDI eliminates a great deal of manual effort in the communications between companies doing business in a supply chain. Very large corporations recognized the importance of automating this function decades ago and created their own proprietary EDI systems. The adoption of computer-based accounting and transaction management software in turn drove wider adoption of EDI because companies substantially increase the efficiency of intercompany communications by replacing paper documents with electronic ones. Estimates suggest that the annual volume of global EDI transactions exceeds 20 billion per year and is still growing. Today, EDI is a fixture of business. It provides substantial economic benefits to both buyers and sellers; in many cases, suppliers are required to use their buyer s EDI if they wish to have preferred vendor status. However, because the protocols and formats may vary with each system, companies can find themselves having to work with multiple EDI systems and standards and, as a consequence, having to intervene manually on a regular basis in what ought to be a purely automatic transfer of data. This adds to costs and diverts attention from more important activities. Some midsize and larger companies find that they lack the IT staff and infrastructure to manage their EDI requirements. Others that Many companies find value in using a managed service to handle their EDI requirements rather than manage their EDI internally. have the resources choose not to manage EDI in-house because it is not a strategic function. Handling EDI in-house requires having people with diverse skills. They have to: manage the network or networks themselves. implement and update communications protocols and other types of middleware. set up trading partners on the system ( onboarding ). develop maps that connect the data fields in an EDI document to the data fields in one or more internal systems. These skills are needed even after a system is deployed because EDI systems are never static and require ongoing management and maintenance. Ventana Research 2012 Page 2

3 The managed services market is one of the fastest growing segments in the IT industry. Many companies find value in using a managed service to handle their EDI requirements rather than manage their EDI internally. Companies that have the resources to manage EDI systems often prefer to use a managed service because they do not consider this function worthy of management attention, employee time and capital spent on implementation. Benefits of EDI Whatever an organization s particular situation, there can be compelling reasons for handing off the chores of EDI. For Sellers Sellers often have no choice but to use EDI. Buyers may require it as a condition of granting preferred vendor status. EDI also provides selling organizations, especially their finance departments, with several valuable benefits. It can accelerate cash flow by shortening the interval between the receipt of an order and initial billing. With paper-based systems there is always a lag between when orders are received from a customer and invoices are created and sent; this can be several days or even weeks. With EDI, electronic invoicing can take place immediately when an order is received. EDI simplifies order processing by reducing the number of steps required to generate revenue. It enables a company to track every invoice from every customer, which allows more management by exception. Productivity improvements and cost savings are commonly cited by users of EDI systems because all the information about the order can be captured electronically in the proper format and structure. For example, a midsized commercial business reports that after adopting cloud-based EDI it was able to save one day a week on data entry even with a 15 percent increase in sales. Moreover, adopting EDI all but eliminates data entry errors, further improving efficiency. And since buyers must provide all of the information required to process the order, there is no missing data to create delays and require additional process steps. Published research indicates that the fully loaded cost of electronic invoicing is half that of a paper bill. Minimizing data processing errors and delays can also reduce the frequency of customer disputes. This cleaner form of paperwork enables faster order turnaround and fewer errors, which in turn promotes customer satisfaction. When issues do arise, published research suggests the cost of resolving a billing dispute electronically is half that of handling it in a paper process. Ventana Research 2012 Page 3

4 For Buyers From the perspective of a buying organization s finance or purchasing department, EDI provides at least four sets of benefits. First, it improves efficiency by reducing the manual steps required to examine and validate the data and the need to process paper records. Second, EDI streamlines the payment process, allowing more buyers to earn prompt payment discounts more frequently. Today, these discounts provide a much higher return than can be had on cash balances. Third, companies can manage suppliers more effectively through streamlined communications and more on-time payments. Buyers also can achieve meaningful productivity gains through more accurate shipments and faster, easier dispute resolution. Fourth, since it s possible to capture order information automatically at the time it s placed, cash-flow visibility can be enhanced by reflecting all purchases done through EDI (even if there is no formal authorization) rather than waiting for receipt of an invoice and its entry into the accounting system. Through a Managed Service Companies that provision and manage an EDI system themselves have a high degree of control. However, using a managed service delivered via the public cloud provides multiple benefits, as among them lower costs (in some cases significantly lower), broader accessibility, greater scalability and more flexibility in adapting to business relationships. As a result, many businesses find that using a managed service for EDI is the most practical approach. Because a managed service provider has the scale, specialized skills and experience to deal with EDI s complexities (today, there are more than 50 EDI standards in use), it can make the service affordable and an attractive strategic alternative to an in-house operation. Customers benefit from not having to do repeated cycles of custom coding as well Because a managed service provider has the scale, specialized skills and experience to deal with EDI s complexities, it can make the service affordable and a strategic alternative to an inhouse operation. as economies of scale, both of which it can pass along to clients in the form of lower rates. Hosted services provide any company, regardless of size or resources, with access to robust EDI capabilities that are reusable and that both vendors and customers are able to deploy quickly without having to invest in software, hardware and staff. Larger companies can realize value through a more Ventana Research 2012 Page 4

5 strategic use of their IT departments by eliminating (or not having to hire) staff they would have to dedicate to maintaining and upgrading an onpremises EDI system. Midsize and small businesses gain value by having the EDI capabilities of a much larger corporation at an affordable cost without having to develop, maintain and support an on-premises EDI system. Consider a Managed Service for EDI There are many providers of EDI managed services. In deciding which to use it s important to distinguish between those that can and cannot meet your company s basic requirements. To that end, insist that potential service providers demonstrate that they can handle all EDI transactions in a timely fashion in the formats and methods you use to do business with trading partners. To test this ability, choose one or several types of transactions that are unusual and complex and see how each service handles it. A service provider should also demonstrate that it is reliable and has a stable platform as measured by uptime. Moreover, it must be able to implement updates automatically. A second requirement is that the service provider has worked in your company s industry, and ideally with your existing or prospective trading partners. Knowledge of your specific business is important to ensuring that the system it provides will be easy to set up and use and effective. In addition, ask the managed service provider to demonstrate that it has successfully integrated its system with a comparable company s ERP and accounting software. Electronic data interchange is a fixture of modern business because it is faster and more efficient than paper-based manual systems. In light of evolving technologies, markets and business plans, many companies that use an in-house system for EDI should assess whether this is still the best use of company resources. Even more companies that should be taking advantage of the benefits of EDI have not done so because of the cost of setting up a system on-premises. Ventana Research recommends that both groups investigate the value of using a managed service for EDI. Ventana Research 2012 Page 5

6 About Ventana Research Ventana Research is the most authoritative and respected benchmark business technology research and advisory services firm. We provide insight and expert guidance on mainstream and disruptive technologies through a unique set of research-based offerings including benchmark research and technology evaluation assessments, education workshops and our research and advisory services, Ventana OnDemand. Our unparalleled understanding of the role of technology in optimizing business processes and performance and our best practices guidance are rooted in our rigorous research-based benchmarking of people, processes, information and technology across business and IT functions in every industry. This benchmark research plus our market coverage and in-depth knowledge of hundreds of technology providers means we can deliver education and expertise to our clients to increase the value they derive from technology investments while reducing time, cost and risk. Ventana Research provides the most comprehensive analyst and research coverage in the industry; business and IT professionals worldwide are members of our community and benefit from Ventana Research s insights, as do highly regarded media and association partners around the globe. Our views and analyses are distributed daily through blogs and social media channels including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Business Week s Business Exchange. To learn how Ventana Research advances the maturity of organizations use of information and technology through benchmark research, education and advisory services, visit Ventana Research 2012 Page 6

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