Bye Bye EDI 👋🏼

Electronic Data Interchanges (EDI) changed the logistics world.

Now it’s time to say goodbye and welcome in modern alternatives.

EDI Changed the (logistics) world.

In the 1960’s, large businesses were seeing the advent of the computer. They were seeing how it would power the future and eliminate needless processes and redundancies. They saw its potential to streamline processes and change the transportation world. One of the most inefficient operations, typing and retyping data over and over and correcting mistakes.

Electronic Data Interchange was brought to life as a way to streamline and simplify labor intensive processes.

What is EDI?

In a technical sense, EDI is simply the electronic transmission of data that was traditionally transmitted via paper. Like an invoice. EDI is great as opposed to manually typing and retyping this information. The advent of EDI has allowed companies and employees to focus on more important tasks and leave the repetitive data entry behind.

EDI sends out, typically, large packets of data that the recipient then has to make sense of. Several standard EDI formats exist today however, each different business may chose a different format - leaving the integrator forced to know the ins and outs of every language. Not to mention, EDI sends huge amounts of data at once - like 10,000 separate orders for bananas huge.

EDI is a lot like and automated email. Every X time, an hour or day or by the minute, a computer sends a file to its network of computer buddies (other companies of its choosing - or programming). Except you both speak English, so better translate your email to French because it’s the standard you agreed on. Yes, you both have to translate these huge datasets of email regularly but, hey you’re standardized now.

Actual EDI Sample

EDI is really inefficient

This will definately get some pushback: EDI is an inefficient tool for modern business applications.

Yes, you've been using EDI in some manner for 6 decades but, that doesn't mean it's a perfect system (or a fast one). Shipping containers were invented in the mid 1950's and the handling and operation of them has improved ever since. Why shouldn't the way we interface and communicate with eachother improve?

EDI is sent in batches, whether its hourly or by the minute, data is transmitted in batches. Batches of potnetially huge files that a computer needs to one of many different formats or languages. This presents a problem for our realtime world - it's not real time. In fact, there can be delays of hours or days for EDI to be sent or parsed...

EDI is riddled with errors and broken integrations. Each EDI standard is different from the last, and they're really incomprehensible jibberish (see the sample).

Actual EDI Sample

EDI is really inefficient

Here's the example again.

How do you read that? hint, you don't

EDI was designed to be more efficient than typing everything in and do it in a compute power-efficient format. So if it's efficient then how is it inefficient?

1. EDI takes teams of Integrators
To transmit and receive EDI, businesses must hire entire teams of integrators to keep systems running smoothly.
2 EDI links break constantly
If you are relying on EDI links and integrations for your business to operate smoothly, an interruption can cause a standstill. These could be because of a corrupted file, network interruption, data parsing issue, integration break, or something else.
3. EDI requires you to listen and take notes
EDI speaks without listening. In the EDI protocol, files are sent and processed. EDI doesn't care if you didn't get the file properly or if you had an error parsing the data. EDI just moves along.
EDI gives the whole story. You only wanted the name of that actor? EDI gives you their name, addresses, favorite color, and everything else programmed in the file.


I am advocating for API's over EDI's. Here's why:

1. API's are efficient
Yes, an API requires development but they can be more efficient by requesting data when it's needed and only requesting what is needed. API's can also be configured with webhooks to send the data requested when there is a change. You can consume the data you need when you need it.

2.API's go both ways
Using a RESTful architecture, APIs can both send and receive data. You can get a container number from a shipping company, then send back a location update.

3. API's listen for a response
In the API architecture, responses from the receiving party are expected. Run into an issue and need the information again? API's resend what is needed.

4. APIs are gold-standard
EDI is only utilized in the logistics sphere. APIs are the standard across every other industry. By using an API, there is a greater pool of users and potential innovation possible.

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I am building some exciting new resources and tools for people to consume APIs for the logistics world.

© Nicholas Seferos 2021. All rights reserved.

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