Managed Services, EDI

Many companies that electronically trade with business partners are often confronted with many challenges. If your company hasn’t yet encountered any of the following, it likely will at some point: 

  • The number of business partners that want to trade via EDI is growing. 
  • IT has no time to support EDI projects because there are too many higher priority projects. 
  • IT has been reorganized and EDI is no longer a core competency. 
  • The EDI coordinator has been promoted, retired, or left the company. 
  • The company’s business partners provide a scorecard with low scores. 
  • Business partners are changing business rules or asking to add new transactions types. shutterstock_560305249_support

The inability to fix these issues could have undesirable and damaging consequences, such as: 

  • Restricted sales growth or procurement efficiency because the company can’t deliver a working trading solution with customers or suppliers 
  • Lower performance for sales or procurement departments 
  • The relationship between the business and IT is primarily based on resolving escalations arising from existing trading relationships   
  • Existing trading partners issue fines or chargebacks due to non-compliant electronic trading 

At the core of these challenges is the lack of skilled resources to plan, build, and run solutions. Skilled resources that could convert business needs to actionable options for the business to decide upon, and eventually implementUnfortunately, these skilled resources are becoming scarce for many companies due to resource constraints. 

Many IT leaders have turned to external partners to help.  Some partners are providing managed services at competitive rates to support the business activities.  In this manner the company gains a resource focused on the company’s business initiatives and handles the day to day tasks that are too taxing for IT or businesses to manage on their own.  

For companies that do business with EDI, managed services can create a competitive advantage. The virtual staff member can coordinate with expert partner consultants to systematically onboard new trading partners, while keeping the existing trading relationships running optimally. This includes problem solving, responding quickly to trading partner queries, and collaborating with the ERP teams on supply chain improvements based on industry best practices. 

Data Masons provides managed services to customers around the world. Our customers get staff focused on the details of EDI trading relationships and are always available to help. To learn more about our EDI managed services option, watch our short webinar.

Watch the Managed Services Webinar

Dynamics User Groups, Dynamics AX, Dynamics 365, Dynamics NAV, Dynamics GP, Dynamics 365 Business Central, ERP

The inaugural Summit Australia 2019, focusing across all Dynamic Communities User Groups, attracted a very impressive number of attendees. With over 70 sponsor attendees, 140 partner attendees, and over 400 users, it was great to see that the Dynamics Users in Australia embraced this event to interact with their peers and ISV’s like Data Masons EDI. Summit Australia offered education on all versions of Dynamics 365, AX, CRM, GP, NAV, Power BI, PowerApps, and Microsoft Flow. This event provided focused learning and networking as users gained instrumental solutions for their everyday system challenges and larger organizational goals. Summit is well known as a premier user-centric experience with credible peer-to-peer knowledge exchange at its core, and Australia was no exception.

At the Keynote on Wednesday, August 21, the Business Applications Lead for Australia, Michael O’Keefe, shared information about the strategy and roadmap for Microsoft Business applications and innovations coming with the 2019 Wave 2 release of Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform. Microsoft business applications are transforming the customers’ business by delivering intelligent insights of every aspect of their organizations, putting AI into the hands of their employees and helping them take control of their experiences and applications to support their core business processes. shutterstock_633513077_conferenceaudience

This showed a great parallel with how we at Data Masons empower the Dynamics business users to only focus on critical EDI related issues using our Management by Exception functionality as well as providing business users access to EDI information inside of D365 using our Transaction Lifecyle Explorer (TLE).

 

What we take away from Summit

For ISV’s like Data Masons, it was great to speak with customers and to hear about the challenges they face with their day-to-day business processes. Over the years we’ve seen an increase in the use of ISV’s by Dynamics users, especially the ISV solutions that are tightly integrated with the ERP. Users realize that limiting the number of customizations they have embedded in the ERP will make ERP upgrades less difficult. With Microsoft One Version initiative, it’s important to minimize the impact ISV code will have on D365 updates.

The overall conclusion from the partners, ISV sponsors, and most importantly the Dynamics users is that this was a great event. With over 100+ sessions across the different Microsoft Dynamics ERP systems, Summit Australia brought together the largest gathering of Microsoft Business Applications users and partners for education and networking. Technical experts shared their specific knowledge and expertise to help Dynamics Users make the most of their current Microsoft Business Applications software.

If you missed us at Summit Australia 2019 and want to know more about how Data Masons empowers Dynamics users, please ask for a consultation by clicking the button below, or emailing us at dmsales@datamasons.com.

Request a Demo

Managed Services, EDI, ERP

Employee retirements can generate questions and challenges for you as a manager, especially when that employee manages critical business processes that require specific expertise. 

Since EDI is not a core competency of most businesses, most of the required knowledge resides with very few people. With the departure of a key resource, it may be a good time to reflect on what to do next.   

One of the principles of digital transformation is outsourcing activities that are not core to the business. Whether a fulltime employee can be replaced by a service option at a lower cost, from subject matter experts to bootthat should be a strong consideration.  

Reflect and Ask the Right Questions 

“What do we want this role to do in the future?” “Does this role advance our business objectives?” “Can we allocate this salary to a resource to better advance our business objectives?” “Can a single person cover all of the hours of in which we operate?” Do we know what the true potential of our system is for our business? Support_1920x700

Hiring, onboarding and training new employees is expensive. There is a cost to managing people and a tight labor market means that salary costs may increase for the same output.  In fact, replacing a position doesn’t guarantee a better outcome, and companies may pay more for a lesser result. Since EDI activities can directly impact business execution and profits, knowledgeable resources employing best practices relating to EDI can advance your business. For example, fewer errors and faster turnaround on issues can boost customer satisfaction, supplier scorecards, and profits. 

 

Managed EDI Services made EDI simple for Stack-On Products. Watch the video to learn more.

 

Advantages of EDI Managed Services 

Managed EDI Services from Data Masons provides a dedicated resource that handles your EDI operations as though they are a member of your organization.  This dedicated resource is part of a small team that manage a limited number of accounts. In this way, no organization is without a trained, knowledgeable resource during vacations and other “time off” events.  Managed services also cover multiple time zones to manage EDI activities that a single person cannot handle.   

Ongoing training received by managed services personnel benefits your company, and allows new features to be put into production more rapidly. Their primary focus, that your EDI operations run smoothly, frees your team to advance your business.  

Day-to-day operational tasks handled by EDI Managed Services teams include proactive monitoring of your EDI environment, making sure all EDI alerts are resolved, addressing their root causes, communicating with your trading partners on all EDI related matters, handling the mundane day-to-day activities, communicating with your business stakeholders, and recommending improvements. 

Managed Services can be implemented very quickly when needed – in some cases – hours. The timeframe is significantly less time than to ramp up a new employee  

With all of these benefits of EDI Managed Services, an employee retirement could be an opportunity to simplify and improve how you operate. To learn more, check out this video about Stack-On, a company that benefited from EDI Managed Services. 

Watch the Testimonial Video

EDI

Great news! You just landed that major account!  The bad news? You must now be EDI compliant.

EDI is all about saving money through increased labor efficiency and elimination of data entry related errors in the business process between business partners. Done the right way, EDI can be extremely beneficial for all parties. Studies have shown a successfully automated EDI program can reduce costs by $75 to $125 per Purchase Order processed. Your partner knows this, and that’s why they won’t do business otherwise.  download

Not all EDI options are created equal, and it doesn’t always increase efficiency for all parties. Your partner says they have a vendor portal you can use, or you can contact a 3rd party company to setup a webform option. Very simple and seemingly inexpensive. In very low transaction volume relationships, this method can be a good fit. 

Vendor Portals: Is Free Really Free?

Vendor portal options are usually the “free” option. It’s a website provided by your partner where your company can print reports and enter data manually. The typical process is that someone logs in, prints the order details, and then keys the PO details into your ERP system. You are then expected to enter a detailed confirmation into the web portal. When the product ships, the details of the shipment have to be entered into the portal so the partner knows what is coming, and how it is packed by carton and by pallet. Special labels then need to be printed for each carton and pallet related to the shipment. Because the labels are very specific, your warehouse team must apply the labels to the correct boxes and pallets. 

Next, the invoice details have to be registered. Finally, payment information will need to be printed and applied in your system. For something that is “low cost,” the labor costs can actually be astronomical. If a data entry mistake is made, there are typically fines that can cut your profit margins! These costs are rarely measured by most firms, but can definitely add up.

EDI webform portal options solve the problem of multiple websites (portals) for various partners by enabling one single data entry portal for all partners. An EDI webform portal requires less training than multiple vendor portals, but there is a cost for the portal and each transaction entered into it. However, the costs of data entry labor and data entry errors still remain.    

Don't let integrated EDI scare you. Learn how simple it can be with our white paper, 3 Keys to Integration Without Customizations.

Integrated EDI Can Alleviate Your Concerns

Another option for handling EDI is an integrated approach advocated by Data Masons that truly drives down the cost of doing business and frees resources to help grow your business instead. The objective of the platform is to eliminate data entry processes using a “lights out” automated model. Business users are alerted when issues arise with plain language messages that enable a “management by exception” experience. The ROI of an investment in the platform can be huge as documents can be integrated and processed for pennies, and in some cases less than a penny. Most importantly, your business operates more quickly and accurately with an automated and integrated approach. A strong provider can connect your ERP to many external touchpoints and internal systems such as a WMS or shopping cart solution.   

Take care when evaluating your options for an EDI process - both today and in the future. Consider factors such as your anticipated growth in transaction volumes over the next 2-3 years, the amount of time your team spends entering data, what all of this effort is truly costing your firm in terms of missed opportunities and overhead, what your transaction count per month might be, and the cost of manual data entry and mistakes. For example, drop ship programs can create efficiencies for you and your customers but also create new burdens. EDI automation removes those burdens – increased business without increased headaches.

EDI integration is easier than you might think. Our white paper explains how. 

Download the "Integration Without Customization:  3 Keys to Automated Integration" Brief    

Conferences

Each Year since 2003, Microsoft has held a meeting of its partners from across the globe. Formerly referred to as the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, since 2017, it is now called Microsoft Inspire. Although the name change might seem trivial, it makes total sense. If you are lucky enough to attend, you cannot help but be INSPIRED from what you see and hear at this gathering. Approximately 20,000 people from 130 countries gathered in Las Vegas last week to learn about the latest trends in technology and Microsoft’s road map to navigate them.

The event started with a demonstration by Unilever on how the Azure stack helps them make Dove Soap efficiently and ended with Satya playing a life-size game of Minecraft on stage. In between there were over 453 individual sessions over three days that touched on specific solutions, industries, partnering with Microsoft, leadership, business focus, and products (Dynamics, Azure, Microsoft 365, etc.). The Hub was the main meeting area for attendees to network, learn more about individual products or strategies, and visit with Microsoft personnel, sponsors, and vendors who work within the community. partnership

Although this conference is not end user-specific, Microsoft customers still benefit. ERP resellers, Cloud Hosting Providers, or ISV’s like Data Masons get the latest updates directly from Microsoft, info on where their products are heading, and how we can prepare to better serve our collective end customers.

If you want to watch any of the keynote sessions from the week, especially Satya’s on Wednesday, you can go to MyInspire and view them. We definitely recommend this presentation by Julia White, CVP, Azure Marketing, as she demonstrates a life-size hologram of herself delivering the keynote in Japanese – truly impressive!

To learn more about how Data Masons is preparing to serve Microsoft partners and customers, request a call with us today.

Request a Demo

Data Masons is pleased to present our blog series, Giving Back. We are very proud of our team members who have chosen to volunteer and make a difference in their communities. Data Masons provides paid time off to any employee that wishes to give back to their communities and we proudly highlight the people and worthwhile charities to which they have dedicated their time. 

Mara Aguirre, based just outside of Dallas, is a customer advocate who has been with Data Masons for over a year, though many of her clients and coworkers know her from her time with Macola, and she has over 20 years of experience in the ERP world. If you’re a Data Masons customer, you may have had the pleasure of working directly with Mara, who works hard to ensure that our clients have the resources they need to be successful. 

Mara carries this attitude outside of her work at Data Masons and into her community, where she often volunteers with local charities in Dallas such as The Bridge, a homeless recovery center. The Bridge is different from a traditional homeless shelter, in that each individual is assigned a case manager and provided resources such as job training, resume writing, and mental health and medical services. The goal of The Bridge is not just to treat homelessness, but to reduce and even eradicate it. shutterstock_666399238_homeless

Mara’s Community Service Day was spent at The Bridge’s library, which is fully operated by volunteers. Residents can check out and use computers and books, play games such as chess or cards, or simply enjoy the quiet area. Mara volunteers there a few times a month and enjoys being able to work directly with the residents and see the smiles on their faces when she talks with them. For her, this reinforces that, “some folks, due to circumstances, are okay one day and have their world turned upside-down the next,” and that the stigmas surrounding the homeless population is undeserved.  

Volunteering is awesome of course, but it isn’t always easy. Mara points out that when you select an organization to volunteer with, be sure to factor in what you can realistically contribute. Meals on Wheels, for example, is another organization whose mission Mara is passionate about, but the available hours to volunteer do not match with her schedule. Don’t feel bad if that happens to you; just do what you can, whether that means volunteering or donating money or other resources. The important thing, Mara has learned, is to find both the cause you’re passionate about and contribute what makes sense for you. 

It was such a pleasure to speak to Mara and learn about her experiences with The Bridge. Mara and many other members of our team enjoy working for a company that so highly values the work its employees do for their communities. If our company culture sounds like it might be a good fit for you, we invite you to view our current openings. We look forward to bringing you more stories about our awesome employees soon! 

Advanced Ship Notice (ASN), Vendor EDI, Supply Chain EDI, EDI, ERP

In many businesses, EDI processing is like the circulatory system in the human body, and the ERP system is the heart of the business. In other words, EDI is important! Many industries have leveraged EDI’s impact on efficiency to scale operations in a manner and cost structure that would be impossible without it.  The ability to automate repetitive office tasks to integrated EDI is transformational.   

Many enterprises rank their suppliers using a scorecard model that rewards better performing suppliers and punishes those that are difficult to do business with. Unsurprisingly, EDI is a significant factor on supplier scorecards, since mistakes and delays can hamper the ability to execute business.shutterstock_204413116_scorecards

A good example of how a supplier can undermine a customer is Advanced Ship Notices (ASN). ASN’s tell the recipient what they will be receiving, and often in significant detail, so that the receiving of the goods can be handled through a simple scanning process. Distribution centers often operate at high rates of speed, and ASN-related mistakes can cause costly operating inefficiencies and overtime. Imagine a truck arrives with one supplier’s goods. When a proper and timely ASN is received, the work of the warehouse team is quite simple – scan and put away or crossdock the goods to the final destination(s)

Now imagine a second supplier’s truck arrives, but the ASN has not been received by the warehouse. The scans will not work as there is no information to receive the goods and they have to be moved to another location or rejected and sent back to the supplier. This is an ugly situation that costs money, renders valuable shelf space empty, and results in lost sales. 

Additionally, the supplier with the late ASN will be penalized on their scorecard, which in turn opens the door to competitors and reduces the supplier’s sales. 

If you're looking for an EDI vendor, review our checklist to help you select the right solution for your business needs.

There are a lot of other factors by which vendor performance can be quantified over time, and they are driven by rules outlined in vendor agreements. These rules are for the benefit of both parties so that the business activities mesh more smoothly. Rules communicate expectations, e.g: Orders are to be acknowledged within 4 hours, a ship notice should arrive before the shipment, shipment notices must be sent when the truck leaves the facility, and invoices should arrive within 24 hours of the shipment.   

Such specific rules enable a good application to identify when these rules are not being met and generate escalations to the responsible parties at the supplier so that corrective action can be taken before the scorecard is impacted.   

For companies that want to implement a scorecard system of their own, the first step is to set the rules and benchmarks for excellence in the supplier base. The rules can govern everything from timeliness and accuracy, to product quality. 

For example, an organization that requires vendors to perform drop ship activities could look at the time to ship by analyzing the days between sending a PO and receiving the ASN and Proof of Delivery. Analyzing such information helps to determine which vendors are conforming to estimated ship times provided to customers – an important KPI that reflects the consumer’s experience. 

After investing the time and effort into implementing a fully integrated EDI system, gaining this extra insight into the performance of your vendors will be beneficial. A vendor scorecard program makes it possible to proactively manage trends early on and help identify which suppliers are delivering the best value versus least cost.   

Looking for an EDI vendor? We can help. Download our checklist to make this task simpler, and find the right vendor for your needs.

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EDI, ERP

Rube Goldberg machines are pretty coolIf you’re not careful, you could spend hours watching videos of machines which perform simple tasks in no less than twenty steps. Like this gif, where a series of household objects take nearly a minute to turn on a record player. Of course, when it comes to important tasks such as business processes, it’s important to remember Rube Goldberg machines are the fancies of a cartoonist who created them as jokes. 

We’ve worked with companies who inadvertently created a “Rube Goldberg” solution to EDI integration. Most often the solutions are multi-step, multiple application solutions that create multiple points of failure, as is the case with most Rube Goldberg devices. A little research can help avoid those situations, and utilizing a proven solution rather than trying to build one can accelerate business improvement and digital transformation.  

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Look for these attributes to find an EDI solution that does not follow a Rube Goldberg approach… 

  1. It’s a single platform – not a cobbled together group of technologies from various vendors. 
  2. It doesn’t have to be created – its ready to work out of the box. 
  3. It doesn’t require customizations in other applications to work properly. 
  4. It stops bad data from being created that can create downstream problems for stakeholders and customers. 
  5. Top notch service is available when needed to manage issues. 
  6. It can do more than just EDI – it can handle many types of integration that enables a single platform approach for organizations. 

Make sure you get these attributes-- and avoid common pitfalls-- by reading Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Selecting an EDI Solution

Some Rube Goldberg machines work, albeit slowly and with a lot of effort. When it comes to mission critical business processes such as EDI and B2B Commerce, simple and reliable is the best way to move organizations forward. 

Data Masons has been delivering EDI Made Simple for 15 years by providing a unique, solution-oriented platform coupled with expert services. Data Masons improves company’s ability to execute business processes more quickly, accurate and at a lower cost – a key objective of Digital Transformation.   

Please enjoy some of the machines other people have made, and if you’re getting dizzy from watching them, make sure you avoid the pitfalls of Rube Goldberg EDI by reading our white paper, Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Selecting an EDI Solution. 

Get the "Top 10 Mistakes When   Selecting an EDI Solution" Brief

On 20th May, a group of NAV users met at the Microsoft Building 3 at Thames Valley Park, Reading, England to learn and share experiences. The common theme was the final upgrade to Microsoft D365 Business Central. The event was organized by MS Dynamics Communities and attended by Errol Schoenfish, WW Product Marketing, and from Microsoft UK, Umar Bari, Arvind Dutta, Robert Pope, and Ayeshna Hirani. 

Several users were learning about Business Central for the first time, some have been researching the change, and a few were actively evaluating the effort to make the final upgrade. As a reminder, the “final upgrade” is Microsoft's promise to users that historical heavy lifting of changing ERPs after a few years will be obsolete because they will benefit from feature and functionality improvements over time with periodic updates. WorldTourUserGroup_Full-Color-1

During the keynote, Microsoft announced new migration tools to reduce the number of steps to migrate. In October 2018, Data Masons learned that a NAV 5.0 company would have to make 3 migrations before they could arrive at Business Central. We hope that users will react positively when they learn about the new migration tools later this year. 

A great deal of time was spent on practical advice for making the upgrade. Several partners presented on their experiences with one major theme: What software customizations get redone? In fact, the partners believe this topic is more important than deciding on going to the cloud or not. This is because Business Central can run on either, and interestingly enough, partners generally believe that the first step is to stay on prem. Going to the cloud can be done later, after the internal debates on security and risk are deliberated by company executives.  The real debate is to determine what customizations need to be redeveloped in the Business Central paradigm. This is a topic that Users have control or influence over and should master. 

To learn how to integrate EDI with Dynamics WITHOUT customizations, check out our white paper: 3 Keys to Integration Without Customization.

To determine what to customize or not requires some work. Based on our experience, we suggest the following.  

  • Step 1: Understand the processes that are in use.  
  • Step 2: Determine if the process can be replicated with 'out of the box' ERP functionality. 
  • Step 3: Evaluate third party ISV solutions that could run business processes.  
  • Step 4: Weigh out the pros and cons of the build vs buy options. 
  • Step 5: Get consensus from the business. 

With some speculation, the optimist would lean towards the best scenario of a minimally customized ERP, and flexibility to 'turn off’ ISV solutions over time as Microsoft adds more functionality to the platform. The pragmatist is likely to leverage all the 'best of breed' functionality ISVs and Business Central can provide the business. The pessimist is likely to wait a bit longer before they evaluate the Upgrade. 

Data Masons is working with several clients that have made pragmatic decisions to put the EDI workload outside the ERP, and make EDI simple for the business to leverage as a strategic asset in their digital transformation strategy. 

In a future blog, we'll put more details behind the five-step evaluation process that can help put some structure in the most important debate of what to customize for the last upgrade. In the meantime, if you're interested in getting a head start on integrating EDI with your Dynamics systems without costly and complicated customizations, read our white paper on how this can be done.

Download the "Integration Without Customization:  3 Keys to Automated Integration" Brief

EDI for Dynamics 365, Dynamics 365 For Operations, Dynamics 365 Business Central

Many companies that currently process EDI transactions using a legacy translator-- and are considering migrating  to a cloud-based ERP solution such as Dynamics 365 for Operations and Business Central-- face a decision. Should they keep their existing EDI solution, or move to a different EDI platform and vendor?

There are many good reasons to want to keep an existing EDI system, including cost and risk reduction associated with EDI system replacement. However, many organizations find that the cost and risk of keeping a legacy translator far exceeds the cost of a replacement.

Other companies move their ERP to the cloud for cost and a variety of business reasons 

This article is intended to provide the most common shortcomings of translators such as Sterling Gentran, Sterling Integrator, Trusted Link Enterprise, Biztalk and many others as they relate to integration with Dynamics 365 in the cloud. 

  1. Cannot support web services or API’s Depositphotos_4384439_l-2015
    Many translators have limited or no support for web services connections, which is best practice for integrating data to and from Dynamics 365. 
  2. Cannot resolve cross references and produce “transaction ready” data packages. 
    Dynamics 365 expects valid transactions with valid information, such as proper customer numbers, item numbers, units of measures, address locations and numerous data elements. Without invasive customizations in Dynamics, transactions will fail until “perfect”. 
  3. Cannot consume error messages 
    When integration errors occur, the API’s in Dynamics will generate error messages that are critical to the business user. Unless there is a means to consume and report these messages back to the user, troubleshooting is difficult if not impossible. 
  4. Translators are passive. 
    D365 customizations are required to export data files back to the translator – a concept that is often provisioned into legacy ERP solutions via customizations. Needless customizations are frowned upon in the Dynamics 365 ecosystem. 
  5. No Turnaround Data.  
    Data is often sent in EDI messages that must accompany the data that is transmitted back to the EDI trading partner. Unless customizations are created in D365 to store and export that EDI data back to the translator, valid documents are impossible to transmit to the partner. 
  6. No Business Rules. 
    Translators are not well suited for handling complex business rules such as mandating 17 Digit Bill of Lading Values on invoices linked to shipments via Motor Carrier. That logic in most systems is handled by the ERP system – again, requiring more customization. 
  7. No Business or Digital Transformation. 
    Companies that make the difficult decision to replace their ERP solution with a cloud-based Dynamics 365 ERP solution often does so to reduce operating costs, complexity and reliance on manual processes such as data entry to keep the ERP system moving forward. Most companies that try to implement EDI with their legacy translators are fortunate to achieve a comparable outcome, not improve business execution by connecting more of the ERP processes to the outside world such as banks, transportation companies, suppliers and many other parts of their “Value Chain."    
  8. EDI Still Resides in IT. 
    Most legacy translators are complex to manage and operate, and often fall under the responsibility of IT. Naturally, keeping the legacy translator does not improve business user access to critical data that would reduce the need for IT to be involved in day-to-day business/data discrepancies. 
  9. No Help with Non-EDI integrations.   
    Most translators are not well suited to non-EDI integrations and require a second integration platform to be employed. 

Today, the definition of EDI integration best practices has evolved and new solutions are simplifying and opening new opportunities for collaboration with partners in an accurate and cost effective manner. Carefully evaluating EDI options when embarking on the journey to Dynamics 365 can save money by accelerating the process and position companies to increase ROI on their investment in Dynamics.   

Read our executive brief, "Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Selecting an EDI Solution," to learn even more about what to look out for when preparing for an EDI implementation.

Get the "Top 10 Mistakes When   Selecting an EDI Solution" Brief

Dynamics AX, Dynamics 365 For Operations, Partner Resources, Dynamics NAV, Dynamics GP, Dynamics 365 Business Central, Directions North America

I just got back from the Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa in Las Vegas, where I attended Directions North America. The Directions North America conference, held May 5-9, 2019, is the premier Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central event driven by Partners – for Partners, and had over 900 attendees. logo

What originally started as a Dynamics NAV-focused conference 15 years ago has now become a unique event where Dynamics GP, NAV, and Business Central partners from across the US gather. The event offered over 150 sessions, focused on capturing the interest of various audiences. It featured technical workshops, new partner onboarding sessions, product roadmap overviews, and even business building discussions. While Directions is primarily attended by Microsoft partners from across the US, there is extensive representation globally as it’s become a truly an international event.

There were several key takeaways, including:

  1. Microsoft is doubling down on its commitment to the Dynamics 365 Business Central marketplace. In April 2019, Microsoft announced plans to update Dynamics 365 twice a year, which they reinforced at the Directions conference. The Microsoft team was represented and was the largest single partner attendee at the event,. Over 60 resources conducted meetings, support efforts, and planning sessions for the partners in attendance. 
  2. Partners are energized with the direction of Dynamics 365 Business Central. Microsoft announced 100 new improvements to its latest version of Dynamics 365 Business Central, based on direct feedback from both partners and customers. The next release in October 2019 will focus on driving reduced friction with ISV integration, improved UI focus, and enhanced migration tools. Microsoft is listening to what the channel needs and is building out a platform for success that the partners are excited about. 
  3. The partners are really seeing success with a focus on leveraging ISVs to fill gaps. Microsoft Dynamics NAV has historically been a solution that encouraged customization directly within the ERP. With the new architecture of Dynamics 365 Business Central and its focus on being a cloud-based solution, partners are leveraging ISV solutions to fill in functionality/capability gaps. The trend is to now move away from highly customized ERP deployments, and to instead take advantage of best of breed solutions that can complement the already extensive functionality available in the system.

All 3 of these trends are great news for Data Masons Software and its Vantage Point EDI solution.  The marketplace is ripe for customers who are now anxiously investing in Microsoft technology. The Dynamics partner community is seeing success and investing even more in driving solutions into the Business Central solution set. And with the need for a highly flexible and scalable solution that can offer world-class EDI capabilities built specifically for the Microsoft Dynamics community, Data Masons Software is well prepared for success.

If you're a Dynamics partner, please get in touch with us to learn how we make EDI simple for Microsoft Dynamics clients.

Set up a meeting with Bill Moffett

Exact Software Integration, Dynamics ERP Integration, EDI, ERP

There are compelling reasons why worldwide EDI transaction volume continues to grow. EDI can lower costs, improve accuracy, increase efficiency, improve fulfillment times, etc. However, it is virtually impossible to recognize any of these benefits if EDI transactions are not integrated with an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. If a company is receiving 1000’s of orders per day electronically, but must key them into their fulfilment system manually, it is unlikely there will be a material benefit to sending and receiving transactions via EDI.

While EDI integration to an ERP is critical, surprisingly, most leading ERP packages do not provide “out of the box” support for EDI. EDI support or integration is typically provided by third parties, or ISV solutions. These third-party solutions have features that make them unique but fundamentally they come in only one of two flavors: embedded or stand-alone. An embedded solution is one in which the ISV has modified the source code, screens, business logic, and database objects of the ERP application to support EDI. A non- embedded or stand-alone solution is one that does not require modifications to the source code or the database objects of the ERP application. The concept is simple, and the differences may seem obvious, however, the ramifications of choosing one approach vs. the other can be significant.

 

Stand-Alone is Less Strain on Your ERP

The Data Masons EDI solution is a stand-alone application. All transaction processing, cross reference checking, mapping, error handling, exception reporting, etc. is managed outside of the ERP. The Data Masons application communicates directly with the ERP application in real time via the ERP’s native integration layer protocols (oData, Data Endpoints, Integration Ports, etc.). This is the ERP companies’ recommended approach, because it removes the resource intensive processing of transactions from the ERP. It also allows the EDI solution to remain decoupled from ERP. This insulates the stand-alone EDI application from any disruptive changes to ERP introduced by customizations or upgrades and conversely protects the ERP application by not requiring code changes or customizations to support EDI integration.shutterstock_84146302_headachecomputer

There is a vast amount of processing and business logic involved in integrating EDI transactions into an ERP system. In addition to reporting, notifications, exception handling, and transaction processing, it is akin to essentially connecting the ERP system of one company to another. Item numbers, ship to locations, customer codes, discount codes, freight providers, etc. all need to be translated or mapped from one system to another. EDI standards facilitate this integration to an extent, but EDI has grown far beyond the traditional ANSI X12 or EDIFACT standards. EDI encompasses ecommerce: cXML, XML, Flat File, X12, EDIFACT, Punch Outs, API’s via https, Amazon Web Services, Blockchain, Web Shopping Carts, etc. Embedding all the functionality required to support ecommerce into to an existing ERP system radically alters the underlying system. It requires significant invasive code changes and customizations to the ERP code base, business logic, and database objects.

Don't get caught in an integration nightmare. Download our paper, 3 Keys to Integration Without Customization, to learn more about avoiding ERP customizations.

Could Embedded EDI Still be Worth It?

ERP customizations are not uncommon, however. Anyone who has implemented an ERP system has experienced the dilemma between altering the ERP to fit a business process vs altering the business process to fit the ERP. In the short term it is tempting to modify the ERP application, especially if it is something minor such as adding a new field or simply changing a label.

However, long term, even simple changes to ERP source code can have long lasting and painful consequences. For this reason, conventional wisdom and ERP vendors caution against significant customizations to ERP. Each change to ERP source code adds to the complexity and cost of supporting and maintaining the system. Customized ERP systems can be a nightmare to upgrade because all customizations must be re-introduced or migrated into the new code base and then all changes must be tested again. This reengineering and regression testing process is at the very least expensive and time consuming and at its worst can be cost prohibitive. It is not uncommon for customers with heavily customized ERP systems to remain on outdated versions indefinitely. This inability to upgrade is a problem for not only the customer but also the ERP vendor.

Embedded EDI is a problem for the customer in that they are not able to take advantage of critical fixes or enhancements that are introduced by the ERP vendor. They are in effect receiving zero return for the support and maintenance fees they are paying for their system if they are not upgrading regularly. It is a problem for the ERP vendor in that they must continue to support outdated systems and technology. They are required to spread their resources across multiple supported versions.

 

Listen to Your ERP Provider

Not surprisingly ERP vendors have taken steps recently to mitigate this problem, particularly within the SaaS ERP solutions. Customers are being strongly discouraged from making any changes to core code, but more importantly customers will no longer be able to remain on a version indefinitely. Microsoft, for example, has implemented a policy of "One version, with all customers on the latest available version". With this policy effective as of January 31, 2019, all users were required to update to a specific version. Going forward there will be twice per year (April and October) mandatory upgrades for all customers using the Microsoft flagship D365 suite of ERP.

Microsoft will disable potentially disruptive new features by default and intends to make the releases backwards compatible to minimize impact to customizations. However, the impact to customers with an embedded EDI solution or a heavily customized ERP will most likely be extensive twice annual regression testing, followed by more code changes and updates to take advantage of new functionality. This will most likely make an embedded EDI solution very difficult and expensive to maintain and why Data Masons promotes the stand-alone approach.

To learn more about how our stand-alone EDI approach can save you time, money, and headaches, read our white paper on EDI and ERP integration without customizations.

Download the "Integration Without Customization:  3 Keys to Automated Integration" Brief