ANALYSIS: Low Cost-High Tech

By Bob Lewis

After having linked to over 300 EDI trading partners during the course of the past several years, our corporate management has 'lowered the bar' on the requirements for our suppliers to become part of our e-commerce network.

In the past, we had used a standard of 'more than one transaction per day' as the trigger to mandate EDI compliance. After connecting all suppliers, customers and distributors that fit the minimum requirement, there remained over 400 smaller potential trading partners. From past experience, we knew that one of the main objections to becoming EDI compliant was the cost of the translator software, as well as the need to have in-house technical expertise. Knowing that any solution we implemented had to be one of low cost, we started upon a project to find alternatives to forcing our smaller trading partners to purchase translator software.

Our search led us to Trailblazer Systems Inc. (, headquartered in Atlanta. One of the latest product offerings from Trailblazer is EDI2HTML, described as 'allowing you to send and receive your EDI data over the Internet' as well as 'a drop-in solution that could have you doing EDI with hundreds of trading partners in just hours'. Bingo! It sounded as if we had found a solution to our smaller supplier integration problem.

I spoke to Rich Brown, TrailBlazer's director of sales, and told him of our mission. I asked him to explain exactly the costs and procedures that our smaller trading partners would encounter in using their product as a solution to our expansion needs.

Brown responded, "So many Internet commerce software companies are telling their customers to host Web pages if you want to trade documents electronically with your smaller trading partners. This may make sense if you want to create a shopping cart application for consumer-to-business transactions, but business-to-business electronic document exchange should automate a process without changing the way you do business. For example, if you tell your suppliers to login to your Web site to see if they have orders to process, you now have changed how you buy from your suppliers. The end result is they will get to your order when and if they remember. Our EDI2HTML solution pushes information to the recipient when the originator has something to send. So in the case of your suppliers, you actually push your order to their desktop via e-mail. This actually means that they will process your order quicker than having to go to a Web page."

He adds, "In order for this solution to be ideal it should expand the trading community for AS/400-based legacy EDI translators such as Trusted Link EDI/400 from Harbinger and Gentran from Sterling [Commerce]. Our EDI2HTML product allows you to treat the Internet as a VAN (Value Added Network) module to those legacy EDI translators. The contents of the HTML form are based on the contents of your EDI data so there is no programming required to create the HTML form. Furthermore, the cryptic EDI data is interpreted into terms that a non-EDI expert can understand and process. When the recipient opens up the form, an automatic e-mail response is sent back and EDI2HTML is smart enough to convert that automatically into a functional acknowledgement (FA)."

I also spoke to an EDI2HTML user, Douglas Mackie, the EDI coordinator for a major auto parts manufacturer. He supplied some amazing statistics. "In the first two months of using EDI2HTML, we added over 50 new trading partners. In the previous seven years, without EDI2HTML, we had added 250." My calculations reflect a seven-fold decrease in the time it had taken to bring up the most recent additions.

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