from the front line: EDI Light

Having spent the past four years convincing 300 of our largest suppliers, distributors and customers that they should join us in our ‘EDI adventure,’ we are lowering the bar relative to who must comply with our request to be 100 percent EDI compatible with our firm.

We now require all suppliers that receive at least 250 orders per year to be EDI compliant, when receiving purchase orders and submitting invoices.

Past history has taught us that one of the main obstacles encountered by smaller potential trading partners, is the issue of both cost and ‘in-house’ technical competence. With this in mind, we started to look for an inexpensive software/VAN solution we could offer to these new trading partners.

Since we currently use Premenos AS/400 EDI translation software, we started our search with them. (Note: Premenos has since been purchased by Harbinger). Among Harbingers’ offerings is its Harbinger Express Web-based EDI Service.

I spoke to Swati Fuller, a senior product manager at Harbinger, and inquired as to its intended audience. She replied, "Harbinger Express is a fast and easy solution for large companies who want to make EDI initiatives accessible to their low-volume trading partners. It’s essentially a Web site where a company’s trading partners can log on and view, send, receive and store documents. Harbinger Express is simple to learn and use, and the cost of the service is no more than most small companies pay for postage or fax."

Since the overall concept of this product revolves around a large trading partner hub and smaller suppliers that are not currently EDI capable, it appeared to be a perfect fit for our company’s EDI expansion. Digging a little deeper revealed that Harbinger Express service provides two functions:

  • Operation of a secure Web site that can be reached by authorized users day or night from anywhere in the world.
  • Conversion of Web data (submitted by suppliers) to EDI data, which can then be transmitted to a hub company’s EDI translator, pre-mapped so no changes are required to the hub’s system.

To become part of Harbinger Express, the hub company provides Harbinger with its EDI specifications. From these specifications, Harbinger creates custom forms based on the hub company’s conventions and installs them on the Harbinger Express server. Trading partners can then register online to trade with this hub. Once set up, trading partners log on to Harbinger Express using their browser and can pick up or send new messages.

Harbinger Express supports all major national, international and industry specific EDI standards, including the ability to send functional acknowledgments.

When I asked about Internet security, Ms. Fuller said, "Harbinger Express utilizes standard Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Web encryption algorithms. All data is fully encrypted and secure. In addition, trading partners need a user name and password to access their mailbox.

The pricing of Express service to the ‘spoke’ company is relatively light:

  • A one-time setup fee of $295,
  • Monthly fee (up to 15 documents/month) of $29.95,
  • Additional documents are $1.50,
  • Monthly fee if trading partner is on an interconnected network $49.95.

Traditional EDI is somewhat more expensive, with standard PC translation software priced in the $2,000 - $4,000 range. Network services cost about $300 to hook up and annual maintenance fees are in the range of $500 - $1,000.

Harbinger also provides an Internet Kit, consisting of Netscape Navigator, as well as registration disks for Harbinger Net Access, the company’s proprietary Internet access service.

If your organization is in the process of expanding its EDI network, to include the lower volume supplier, I suggest investigating Harbinger Express (

Bob Lewis is VP of IT at the FoodService Purchasing Cooperative Inc. (Louisville, Ky.). He can be reached at