Managed Services, EDI

Simply put, Managed EDI Services is the pain relief for your EDI headaches.

Many companies and IT departments view EDI as a necessary evil of doing business today which is regrettable. The truth is that when an EDI program is implemented and managed properly, the benefits can be transformational to the enterprise. Removing human involvement in mundane business transaction flows will increase transaction processing velocity and help eliminate errors - saving both time and money. Improving your organizations responsiveness while reducing errors fosters better relationships with business partners.  At the same time, increasing your company’s business efficiency and reduced costs will increase profitability.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Well, just like anything that sounds too good to be true, there are several factors that come into play when looking at what it takes to keep EDI running smoothly, such as:

 

  • People that understand EDI in your business
  • People that understand EDI best practices
  • People that understand how to effectively communicate with your EDI trading partners
  • People that know how to manage trading partner compliance
  • People that have time to react to EDI alerts and the knowledge to be able to address themmanagedservices

That’s a lot of EDI stuff that needs to be covered, and since EDI is not usually a core competency of most businesses that utilize EDI, and most tend not to hire dedicated staff to handle this work, this stuff can become EDI headaches. This is where Managed EDI Services comes in.

Managed EDI Services is the management of your EDI operations by an experienced third-party provider. They simplify EDI for you by providing EDI specialist teams that understand your specific business processes and manage the day-to-day so that you can focus on running your business.

The day-to-day operational tasks that are handled by Managed EDI Services teams are:

  • Proactive monitoring of your environment
  • Responding to and resolving of all EDI alerts and addressing their root causes
  • Communicating with your trading partners on EDI related topics
  • Communicating effectively with your business stakeholders
  • Applying EDI best practices
  • Managing compliance to partner specifications

The Managed EDI Services (MES) team’s primary role is to ensure that your EDI runs smoothly. Since they understand your key business processes and are automatically alerted to all events that might impede your business flow, they can proactively act to resolve any situations that arise. They also address the root cause to avoid repeated issues in the future.

Communication with every stakeholder in your supply chain is key to the running of a smooth EDI operation, the MES teams actively work with both your internal business stakeholders and your trading partners to understand and report back so that does happen. They are also able to bring the company-wide experience to your environment by looking for opportunities to implement best practice and strengthen overall operations. The MES team is an integral part of your team.

At the business level, the major benefits of employing Managed EDI Services are:

  • Reduced overheads
  • Reduced penalties
  • Continuous coverage
  • Time to focus

Having a team of specialists working for you provides continuous coverage for your EDI functions. No scrambling to find coverage when your internal staff take vacation or are out sick, no more worrying about someone with all the EDI knowledge leaving.

Managed EDI Services boils down to a service offering that makes EDI simple for you by providing you with the piece of mind that your EDI activities are being handled and that you and your staff can stay focused on running your core business.

Data Masons has been providing integrated EDI services for over two decades. To speak with a specialist about how our experts can augment your EDI team, contact us today!

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EDI, Amazon, Seller Central, Vendor Central, Fulfillment by Amazon

It can be difficult to decide how to trade with Amazon, but understanding the differences between the options can enable organizations to best leverage the advantages of working with this leading eCommerce enterpriseIn this blog we’ll explain the differences between being a vendor and a seller, along with the fulfillment options available for both.  We also inform the reader as to how Data Masons can help companies fully automate their business processes with Amazon from order to invoice, regardless of the option selected. 
Vendor Central 
In this scenario, Amazon acts as a retailer, buying stock in bulk from a vendor and storing this stock in their distribution centers. The end customer then buys the stock from Amazon and the order is fulfilled by Amazon, so the end customer is Amazon’s customer. This means the communication with the customer is controlled by Amazon, and Amazon also collects margin on every sale. shutterstock_625771727

How Does Data Masons Help? 
Data Masons can integrate the entire Order to Cash cycle with Vendor Central via Amazon’s strict EDI requirements which can be fully managed by Data Masons on your organization’s behalf Data Masons can service interactions with Amazon in any country in which Amazon operates.  Data Masons seamlessly enables EDI with Vendor Central for all available Amazon Vendor Central interactions, resulting in lower operating costs for vendors that utilize Amazon’s portal solution.  

 

Seller Central 
When participating in Seller Central program, the supplier (seller) sells directly to their customers on the Amazon website. Amazon acts as a marketplace and it takes a subscription rather than margin on every sale. The seller controls the communication with the customer and can therefore build a customer profile, which can in-turn help with repeat business through targeted marketing. 

Seller Central also gives the seller more flexibility when changing settings such as delivery service levels, pricing and stock levels. This flexibility can be especially useful on promotional days like Black Friday, enabling a seller to quickly react to market conditions. For example:  

  • a competitor is selling the same products as your company at a discount you need to match on Amazon 
  • your warehouse is having issues, so you need to extend the delivery promise 
  • you want to alter the stock levels available on Amazon depending on how well all your selling channels are performing versus the stock levels you have available  

How Does Data Masons Help? 
Data Masons has a “ready to implement” solution that manages various RESTful API interfaces that are utilized with Seller Central. Data Masons can work with our clients to determine which ones are relevant to their use case to maximize selling potential and flexibility on Amazon. Orders are retrieved from Amazon automatically and then interfaced to existing ERP infrastructure.   The overall result is that distribution through Seller Central can be performed in an efficient, secure and reliable fashion. 

 

Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) 
Fulfillment by Amazon is the third way that a company can utilize Amazon’s platform and services.  In this model, Amazon’s responsibilities include warehousing, shipping and even selling a company’s products but, unlike Vendor Central, Amazon does not purchase the goods from the seller and receive margin.  Instead, Amazon charges warehousing, selling and fulfillment fees Fees vary based on whether the goods are sold by Amazon or through other channels or eCommerce sites.  In detailed terms this is how FBA works. 

  • When FBA is utilized, the seller transfers goods to Amazon’s fulfillment centers and retains legal ownership of the goods. Amazon promotes the goods, receives orders, ships the goods and settles the payments that are remitted to the seller. At the same time, orders can be taken by the seller through other means and transmitted to Amazon for fulfilment but no billing is involved by Amazon.  In this scenario Amazon behaves like a public warehouse (aka Third Party Logistics Provider 3PL or Logistics Service Provider LSP). 
  • If both FBA and a company’s own distribution network are being used, the FBA API interfaces will only be run for the orders to be shipped via the FBA workstream.  

How Can Data Masons Help? 
Data Masons can fully integrate with Amazon FBA APIs and your Microsoft ERP directly or any ERP system that support EDI transactions such as X12, EDIFACT and even custom file formats. Data Masons can help companies utilize the optimal Amazon model for their business and become more competitive overall. 

To learn more about how Data Masons can help with Amazon integration, contact us today.

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Third-party Logistics, EDI

Welcome to the third blog in our series about third-party logistics management via electronic messaging/EDI! The first blog explained that outsourcing distribution to 3PLs is popular with companies that are expanding into new markets or want to focus on their core strengths and let the logistics experts manage the physical storage and distribution of their goods.

We also discussed that in 3PL automation projects, interactions can be generalized into two master file exchanges and five transaction scenarios. Part 2 delved into the master file exchanges, and this blog, the third and final blog of the series, focuses on the five transaction scenarios.

Transactions

At a high level, warehouses are simple operations. Goods arrive, goods are moved around inside the warehouse, and goods are shipped. In the “real world,” things get a little more complicated, as goods can be damaged, stolen, expired, and have other issues that require inventory adjustments. Man_in_warehouse-1

Another factor (for a future blog), is the value-added services 3PLs provide to repack items into different forms and partner numbers. This “conversion” of inventory is similar to production environments where components are removed from inventory and new inventory is created with no physical receipt or shipment process. However, today we’re focused on the basic 3PL process for the simple distribution of finished goods.

To understand the basic premise of the X12 document’s intent as it relates to warehousing, imagine we’re commencing a new relationship. We’ve sent the item catalog information to the warehouse, so they know the item numbers and characteristics of the items they’ll be housing. The first step in the process is to ship goods to the warehouse. In a best practice scenario, we’ll send the warehouse a notice of in-transit goods so they can plan the receiving and storage activities. In the X12 standard, the document that fits this scenario is the 943 Warehouse Stock Transfer Shipment Advice. The data in this document can have many sources, such as a planned inter-warehouse shipment, purchase order, or ship notice from a related party. Regardless, it lets the warehouse know that goods are coming with a high level of detail.

When the goods arrive, the warehouse should inspect and possibly count the goods to make sure that what was scheduled to arrive did. If the goods are coming from a vendor, it’s essential to validate invoices and payments. The document that fits this purpose in the X12 standard is the 944 Warehouse Stock Transfer Receipt Advice.

The next logical transaction in the 3PL relationship is the X12 standard’s 940 Warehouse Shipping Order, which gives the 3PL the details to integrate into their internal systems for accurate fulfillment of the shipment. 

We want to know the goods were shipped and have details on freight carrier information, freight costs, lot numbers, serial numbers, and other crucial details for accounting and inventory control purposes.

The last common transaction in the 3PL process interaction is the Inventory Adjustment Process.  Because there’s always the possibility of inventory loss through errors and obsolescence, we’ll need a means for the warehouse to communicate what’s being disposed of and why. This scenario is covered nicely in the X12 standard by the 947 Warehouse Inventory Adjustment Advice.

Achieving a finely tuned 3PL process flow can deliver significant benefits to a business that distributes goods through outsourced warehousing. The discussion today is supported by the X12 EDI standard, but that’s not a prerequisite of a successful endeavor. Other formats, such as CSVs, XML, EDIFACT, JSON, and others can also do the job – but they require careful evaluation and implementation, as they are not supported by a highly evolved standard such as the X12 standard. 

We hope you find this information useful in understanding a simplified approach to 3PL project implementation. Again, you can find part 1 here and part 2 here. If you have questions, please contact us at techblog@datamasons.com or www.datamasons.com. And be sure to subscribe to our blog so you don't miss our next post!

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EDI, Amazon

Amazon Seller Central (Fulfillment by Amazon) can present challenges to companies with an existing EDI capable infrastructure by mandating the use of Web Services and XML data formats. Data Masons offers a simple and effective solution for those organizations that want a fast and cost effective way to integrate Amazon Seller Central into their existing EDI system. shutterstock_1152348296_packagesonporch

Data Masons now provides an EDI solution for Seller Central that manages the communications and translation of all messages to and from any EDI standard message such as X12 and EDIFACT. Setup can usually be accomplished in a day and has a low setup cost and modest ongoing fees. 

Amazon Seller Central offers companies a way to quickly enter new markets and outsource product distribution. Data Masons can quickly connect Seller Central into your ERP platform without any special changes to existing systems and infrastructure! Contact us to learn more, whether you’re an existing Data Masons customer, or considering us for your EDI needs.

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Third-party Logistics, EDI

Welcome to our three-part series of blogs about third-party logistics management via electronic messaging/EDI. We receive many questions about 3PL from our readers, and we’re excited to share our knowledge of integrating EDI with this business practice.

Outsourcing distribution to 3PLs, also known as public warehouses or logistics service providers, is increasingly popular for companies that are expanding into new markets or simply want to focus on their core strengths by allowing logistics experts to manage the physical storage and distribution of their goods.

To make outsourced logistics seamless and cost-effective, advanced organizations implement electronic communications. Data Masons has worked on over one hundred of these projects with stakeholders who have various levels of capabilities and approach standards. We’ve learned that these projects have consistent patterns that are useful to understand when approaching this type of project.shutterstock_396462703_warehouse

In our experience with 3PL automation projects, interactions can be generalized into two master file exchanges and five transaction sets (also known as documents). The authors of the X12 EDI Standard clearly understood how to manage interactions with a 3PL – the documents most commonly used by 3PLs are very well-conceived and documented in the X12 EDI standard frequently used by 3PLs.

The second part of our series will continue next week, discussing master file exchanges – please join us and subscribe so you don't miss out!

Read part 2
Read part 3

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Blockchain, EDI, Immutability

Data Masons is pleased to present our blog series on Blockchain and EDI. Blockchain is quickly becoming less of a buzzword and more of an inevitability in the B2B world as more companies utilize it in their business practices, including in EDI processes. In this post, we'll discuss immutability in Blockchain, and what impact that feature will have on EDI.

With Blockchain, immutability is basically the concept that once data is entered as a block onto the chain, it cannot be changed or altered. In simplest terms, that means no more data fixing. But that doesn’t mean that errors won’t occur. 

Crash Course: What Exactly Makes the Data Unchangeable?

When we say the data is “unchangeable,” it doesn’t mean that the data is set in stone and sealed, but rather, there is no way to change the data without it being shutterstock_715107325_blockchainlocksnoticed and having a significant impact on the entire chain.

The unchangeable nature of the Block is due to a function called hashes. Hashes are mathematical functions which turn the data into an output of characters which represents the data on the Block. The hash acts as the fingerprint for the data, and blocks are ordered according to the previous block’s hash. If a hash has been altered, it will break the chain and be easily discovered. If there is an error in the data entered, in order to preserve the integrity of the chain, the user will need to create a new block with the corrected data, rather than changing the already-entered information.

 

EDI, Business Transactions, and the Error-Prone Nature of the “Throw it Over the Wall” Approach

One big reason this will have a significant impact on the EDI world in general, is that by their nature, business transactions between companies and trading partners are prone to frustrations and errors.

Historically, business transactions which are now covered by EDI, such as purchase orders, invoices, and payments, were exchanged by mail, fax, phone, and computer. In these exchanges, documents were registered in ledgers and replicated in many different forms of storage- from file cabinets to digital media. Each party had their own copies of the transactions.

Think of this model as “throwing it over the wall,” because there’s no immediate feedback when transactions with errors are tendered. This is still the typical manner by which business is conducted today, and there are inherent challenges. If you’ve ever encountered disagreements between transactions, you know it’s a time-consuming headache to fix. For example, if you show an invoice as paid, but your trading partner claims it’s still open, you’ll need to do research, revision, and reconciliation, to name just a few steps.

But why do these errors occur in the first place? Why are transactions between trading partners more prone to them? If you’re working with EDI or your company’s business transactions, you probably already know the answer. Every trading partner has their own requirements, and the more humans are involved in these transactions, the more likely there are to be mistakes. EDI helps, but advances in technology, if they’re leveraged by EDI solutions, will eliminate some of the remaining pains.

If an EDI system utilizes Blockchain, “throwing it over the wall” will not only no longer be an option; it will be obsolete. With Smart Contracts, transactions will be automatically validated before they’re entered. There will be a clear ledger of the transaction that has been approved by multiple nodes, and which shows the history of every step in the transaction and business relationship.

 

Get Prepared for Blockchain

Blockchain technology is poised to make a large impact on how companies integrate their business interactions today via EDI and API’s. To learn more about how you can make sure your EDI system is ready for the challenges of Blockchain, download our brief or read the other posts in our series on Blockchain and EDI.

Download the Blockchain for EDI Brief

Also in This Series:

Blockchain for EDI: How Secure is It?

Blockchain, EDI, Security

Data Masons is pleased to present our blog series on Blockchain and EDI. Blockchain is quickly becoming less of a buzzword and more of an inevitability in the B2B world as more companies utilize it in their business practices, including in EDI processes. We're starting our series by addressing the most important question that accompanies any new technology. How secure is it? Sometimes it seems like technological advances face a constant battle between ease of use and security.

While no technology can be completely risk-free, Blockchain does have some advantages due to the way information is added and stored, and security protocols which are unique to Blockchain. Read on to learn more about how security works, and what it means for you as an EDI user.

 

What, Exactly, is on that Chain?

Whenever a transaction is processed using Blockchain (also known as “the Block), it is added to a limitless chain of linked transactions, or blocks. This distributes a copy of the chain and transaction throughout the Blockchain network, which results in a decentralized, distributed ledger.handshakeblockchain

 

The Security of Immutability

The blocks in the chain are immutable, which means that they can’t be modified once they’re added. If changes need to be made, this requires a separate correcting transaction, rather than a change to the transaction itself.

Even though shifting from correcting ledgers to creating new ledgers for corrections could be a pain, it has a couple of advantages. First, it will force companies to adjust their business practices to minimize the chance of mistakes and the need for corrective transactions. Second, it makes it extremely difficult for the data to be attacked because of security protocols such as Proof of Work.

 

Smart Contracts to the Rescue

But the need for corrections will be minimized, thanks to Smart Contracts. We'll cover them more in depth in a future blog post, but simply put, Smart Contracts will do the work to make sure that each transaction is correct BEFORE it takes place, without the need for human intervention. Today’s method often relies on validation from disparate and disconnected systems, but a Smart Contract provides another type of security for Blockchain users: assurance that transactions are correct before and after they take place.

We'll also go over immutability in the future, including, why exactly a block is unchangeable, but here’s what it means in terms of security: if a hacker or other malicious party wants to alter any data on the Block, it would mean altering the entire chain, and they would not be able to achieve a consensus. The definition of consensus in terms of a Blockchain principle is outlined in further detail in Blockgeek’s awesome post, but suffice it to say, it’s a necessity of any Blockchain transaction, and makes Blockchain a much more secure way of doing business than today’s standards.

 

Is Your EDI System Ready?

The bottom line, though, is that the Block is only as secure as the software interacting with it. It’s an exciting buzzword and you want to make sure that your EDI system is not only eager to use it, but prepared to keep it secure and give you the peace of mind that you need. Download our brief or read the upcoming posts in our Blockchain and EDI series to learn more about how to evaluate your EDI system for this emerging innovation.

Download the Blockchain for EDI Brief