Continuing to expand the market for its Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) products and services, EXTOL Inc. (Pottsville, Pa.) has formed a new partnership with APPCON (Ridley Park, Pa.), a provider of application software and support to the apparel and footwear industries.

Under terms of the agreement, EXTOL's EDI Integrator will be integrated into EIS/400, APPCON's manufacturing, distribution and financial data processing solution that runs on the AS/400.

"We've had the opportunity to work with every EDI translator on the market and have concluded that EXTOL is the state of the art," says Bob McIlwain, VP of sales and marketing for APPCON. "It's easy to use and it works. That makes our technicians and customers very happy."

An e-commerce solution designed for companies that need complete communications, translation and document management capabilities, the EDI Integrator is made up of a number of components. Among them are: direct file access-allows direct access to applications; dynamic record selection-dynamically select a record by the contents of the record; application server-true multi-tasking and simultaneous sessions; archive manager-comprehensive archiving with extensive catalogs and indexes; and audit view-on-line query and user interfaces to complete audit trails and documents.

For EXTOL, the relationship with APPCON is the latest step in the process of increasing its distribution strategy. "We're aggressively going after business partners," says Mike Schindelheim, EXTOL's business partner alliance manager. "We're mainly looking for customer service organizations that need the EDI capabilities we provide." The EDI integrator contains APIs that allow it to hook into ERP applications, such as APPCON's EIS/400.

Schindelheim says one of the biggest advantages of the EDI Integrator is it "empowers customer service people to access information without having to get MIS people involved." If a company calls about a problem with an order, the customer service rep can access the EDI data, previously not possible because that data was in an unreadable format. About a year and a half ago, EXTOL converted the EDI format into English, increasing the ROI for many companies. "Problems can be resolved instantaneously without having to go back and forth," Schindelheim says. "This saves both time and money."

Despite the focus on customer service organizations, Schindelheim also says that EDI is growing in popularity for businesses with trading partners. "Business-to-business hardcore transactions need to be conducted in a secure, high-volume environment. That means EDI," he says. "The Extol Auto Mapper allows trading to be done automatically."