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Supply Chain Performance

EDI and Collaborative Supplier Portals

EDI is great, but extra capabilities make it greater

If you’re part of a large company, you probably have Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) in place already. If not, how do you know whether or not you should pursue it? 

Since the 1960s, EDI has represented a huge advancement in business processes. In the ‘90s it took off because it enabled automated computer-to-computer transfers of electronic business documents. That did away with much of the manual work involving snail mail, faxes (remember those??), and emails. Direct transfers between computers enabled more automation from ERP systems and was a huge step toward a paperless office. Everything from ordering to shipping to tracking and invoicing were now more streamlined and efficient.

But let’s face it: like everything else, EDI has its own set of challenges.

For starters, it requires a LOT of IT resources and it can be expensive—it needs almost constant attention—to monitor changes to data types, fields, or formats. When information is missing or in the wrong place, the EDI transfer may not happen correctly. Not to mention the wide variety of EDI standards for different industries or global regions. The need for extensive resources usually makes EDI accessible for only top tier companies or top spend suppliers, which leaves smaller business partners in the dark.

The bottom line is that EDI is only part of the solution. It can be used to streamline document transfers, but it doesn’t keep everyone on the same page about changes, approvals, or communications. Users can find themselves falling back on manual processes or emails for those types of tasks.

Pairing EDI with a collaborative supplier portal delivers a fully paperless office, eliminating all the manual processes, spreadsheets, and endless emails needed to fill the gap left by EDI alone.

EDI is not needed to have collaborative and automated supplier processes

A collaborative platform works in tandem with EDI, allowing users to communicate with their suppliers on single or multiple EDI orders and capturing communications in an audit log. Then, everyone has visibility into updates and access to pending orders. And while POs sent via EDI are difficult to expedite, pushout, update, or cancel without manual work, the supplier portal allows fully automated and electronic management of all those tasks.

Since EDI isn’t accessible to every company, it’s likely you have suppliers who don’t use it. The good news is that if you’re using a collaborative portal, you don’t need it. The portal’s capabilities can be shared freely with suppliers and the platform brings everyone onto the same page. The portal’s PO collaboration tool eliminates phone calls, emails, printed POs, and sticky notes that teams often use to track change orders. 

Adopting a collaborative supplier platform automates all the business processes between buyer and supplier—whether you have EDI, your suppliers have it, everybody has it, or nobody has it.

Executive Analytics

Let’s talk about metrics. In addition to communications, a supplier portal also brings data into a single dashboard. You and your suppliers can see every key metric 24/7 in real time. Supplier scorecards document things like acknowledgment rate, responsiveness, on-time delivery, and quality. That information drives performance improvements and can lead to real-world benefits like less buffer inventory and better manufacturing efficiencies. And of course, those front-end improvements lead to improvements on the tail end, too—which means happier customers.

Final Words

There’s no doubt that EDI represents one of the greatest advances in the business world’s history. It paved the way for technology to deliver on its promises of efficiency, less paper, and better business relationships.

Maybe you need to get the most out of EDI, or maybe it’s inaccessible to you. Either way, adopting a collaborative supplier portal will give you unprecedented collaboration, visibility, and efficiency.