EDI, API, Blockchain, collaborative platforms: all united for effective information sharing!
Everyone agrees. In a globalized economy, with long-distance shipping, multiple production sources, and multichannel distribution, the need for reliable information and efficient data exchange processes has never been more critical! For over thirty years, EDI has addressed this issue, now reinforced by collaborative platforms, APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), and Blockchain. What has changed?
EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) is not new. Since the early 1980s with the advent of barcodes, IT professionals and standardization bodies have sought solutions to facilitate and accelerate computer exchanges, reducing human intervention and errors, especially during re-entry.
In search of standardization:
Their result? Sets of standardized messages using standard languages, recognized by stakeholders throughout a value chain, such as the logistics chain. The global organization GS1, active in the logistics world, offers two structured languages, EANCOM® and GS1 XML, supporting 43 messages, e.g., for inventory status, delivery orders, invoice dispatch, etc. Other standard formats exist, particularly in customs, transport, or the automotive ecosystem.
"EDI handles transactions, management orders," explains Xavier Barras, Operations Director of GS1 France. This is significant, especially since, at its inception, infrastructure issues (telecommunication networks) also had to be addressed. The widespread use of the internet and its standard protocols has simplified this aspect of the problem.
Positive consequences of using EDI:
- More agility: internal manual processes are automated, especially all transactions involving ERP, enabling orders, delivery notes, and invoices to be processed without human intervention.
- Fewer errors, thanks to the elimination of re-entry phases.
- Theoretical universality through standardization, beyond linguistic and technical barriers.
- More traceability, e.g., at the request of customs or health authorities.
Today, we use these standard messages daily, sometimes without realizing it. Software developers have worked on integrating translation modules, allowing users to send or receive them transparently. Users continue working on their usual screens because the data filling their forms has been adapted to their format.
...but also requires significant resources:
"EDI messages are robust and offer multiple services to organizations with the means and skills to implement them," acknowledges Emilia Jevakhoff, CEO of Winddle, the platform editor for sharing information among supply chain actors. "But they are challenging to implement for smaller structures, and, especially, they do not cover all situations encountered. For example, when a supplier has already acknowledged receipt of an order and makes subsequent changes, we see correction emails reappear between stakeholders. How will this information be integrated?"
Towards a real business response:
Xavier Barras recalls that the role of EDI is to automate transactions based on standardized data and strict framing. But he admits that "companies today need other answers, connected to their businesses. Their digital transformation is fueling their appetite for new organizations, especially in Supply Chain matters." Among the topics on the table: improving service rates, reducing stock management costs, transforming the customer experience, managing omnichannel, etc. In this context, GS1's specialist notes, "companies are no longer looking for THE technical solution but A response to a problem. For example, how to implement a more collaborative Supply Chain to offer new services to their customers."
Blockchain for traceability of exchanged messages:
EDI promoters have brought progressive solutions to these criticisms, such as the emergence of WebEDI versions to facilitate small businesses' access to cloud translators without heavy internal investments. In addition, new technologies (APIs and blockchain) are being carefully studied. "We have developed an API for the transport world, which connects the agendas of different actors to continuously adjust the expected reception time based on road hazards," illustrates Xavier Barras.
The use of blockchain is also interesting, with the ability to transmit information with perfect confidentiality and traceability. "Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how such chains could develop without a quality technical foundation, hence a dominant player to guarantee this infrastructure. This raises questions of independence in the long run."
Quick-to-implement collaborative platforms:
The emergence of collaborative platforms, of which Winddle has become a champion in the procurement world, is better understood. "They assist in operational management by improving information quality. And they are easily implemented, especially in companies that lack the technical infrastructure and skills to launch complex IT projects," explains Emilia Jevakhoff.
They can also position themselves as a complement to EDI, where structured messages have not been developed for a specific aspect of the business. One does not prevent the other! The success of collaborative platforms is assured as long as they allow gaining productivity and quality in information exchange.
It is likely that this coexistence between EDI - in which large companies have invested for nearly 30 years, which will not encourage them to give up soon - and these platforms has a bright future. It will remain relevant, based on the use of standardized messages when they exist and when chain actors can easily access them. Platforms and their workflows will address functional gaps and meet the simplicity needs of smaller structures. And as repetitive transactions emerge, standardization work can intervene to make them more efficient and organize their sharing with the most significant number.