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In the early days of e-commerce, electronic data interchange (EDI) was a significant breakthrough, particularly in communicating with trading partners. EDI provided a common interface and exchange protocol that enabled different computer applications to send and receive standard transaction messages, such as advance ship notices, invoices and even payments. Automating these exchanges reduced costs, cut lag times and raised service levels. But because companies had to build separate EDI connections to each trading partner, EDI's use generally was limited to high-volume partners.
Then value-added-networks (VANs) came along. VANs served as an electronic post office, converting EDI messages into whatever format was required by the receiving computer. This significantly broadened EDI's scope because it eliminated the need for multiple direct connections to trading partners - a company only had to connect to the VAN.
EXTOL was launched as a VAN in 1989 using a system originally built for EDI, and we continue to see strong demand for this capability. Of course, VAN solutions have evolved with advances in technology, particularly the internet. Today EXTOL is completely agnostic with regard to data format and easily handles flat files, spreadsheets, EDI, XML or anything else. The good news is that all formats for communication over the internet are built to standards, so as new formats continue to emerge, we are certain to be able to support those as well.
Integration of internal applications also has been a challenge for companies. In the 1980s and '90s, a proliferation of best-of-breed software was designed to handle specific functions within the enterprise. These solutions helped individual departments optimize operations, but when departments needed to share data with one another, the different applications became a brick wall. Custom code for each interface had to be written - a process that was time consuming, expensive and not always successful. Moreover, frequent upgrades to best-of-breed software meant the code had to continually be reworked.
Big software vendors attempted to solve this problem by offering "seamlessly integrated" solution suites that were supposed to come with the different functional modules already working together. Many users hopefully bought into this concept, only to be disappointed. Too often these suites were merely an amalgam of acquired products with jerry-rigged interfaces that required additional configurations or workarounds in order to exchange information.
Now the internet and cloud computing are totally changing the game. New applications built for these disruptive technologies enable companies to directly and securely connect systems at a much lower cost than was previously possible, which enables significantly higher transaction volumes and near real-time data availability.
This is great news for businesses. A lot of companies are missing out on these benefits, however, because so much of their limited IT budget goes toward maintaining the hodgepodge of integrations they have cobbled together, case by case, over the years.
Clearly the time has come to stop getting by and start getting smart with enterprise integration. All of these old and outdated solutions can be replaced with a single-source business integration platform like the EXTOL Business Integrator (EBI). EBI is a middleware that supports the four main categories of business integration:
Unlike coded integration, EBI applications are built and maintained using modeled, configured or generated objects. Object architecture not only simplifies the creation of custom business integration, it also reduces the time and effort needed for delivery, by enabling reuse at multiple levels.
The benefits of replacing and consolidating outdated integration systems are many and can be reviewed in detail on our web site (www.extol.com). A few of particular interest to logistics and supply chain operations:
"¢ The ability to quickly onboard shippers, carriers, and service providers means a faster path to conducting business and generating revenue.
"¢ The ability to expand your network by automating integration with partners that are not EDI-capable and exchanging data in other formats, such as spreadsheets, flat files and XML.
"¢ The ability to integrate partner transactions with your applications and business processes reduces errors, latency and cost, thereby reducing chargebacks.
"¢ The ability to give your customers on-demand visibility with EXTOL's integrated dashboard feature.
The bottom line is that a multifunctional, single-platform integration solution will enable you to stop integrating applications and start integrating your business. Isn't it time you got started?
Source: EXTOL International
Keywords: supply chain management, supply chain IT, supply chain solutions, EDI, supply chain visibility
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