Put the EDI Manager in the Driver’s Seat

Spend Matters welcomes a guest contribution from Rob Guerriere, EVP, DataTrans Solutions.

I have been noticing a common theme in my travels meeting leading North American corporations: there are a multitude of questions around who owns the business process behind EDI. It seems to me that executives leading merchandising, accounting, and logistics/supply chain want the EDI manager to step up into a position of a proactive business analyst, suggesting approaches to fix common process issues.

This past week I traveled through the diverse state of Tennessee, which has no shortage of characters and culture. The people and vibe from the Appalachia to Nashville to Memphis are so different that one would think they traveled a thousand miles between each stop. My encounters began with the indigenous country tribes of the Appalachian Mountains, where I came across some rather aggressive older and weathered looking ladies who were very curious about my marital status. When I hit Nashville I sat down to dinner and heard an amazing bluegrass band at the Station Inn while drinking beers with a country music and TV stars. In Memphis I woke up with a catfish and cheese grits breakfast and almost didn't make it out of town since someone siphoned the gas out of my car. The EDI uses and approaches at the companies I met were as unique as the experiences on my trip.

Let's start by clearing up confusion on the definition of what most people mean when the use the term "EDI" today:

When a director, vice president, and senior management level business line professionals, and anyone with "supply chain" in their title talk about electronic data interchange (EDI), they are not just talking about ANSI x12 or EDIFACT data standards. They are wrapping a lot more under the term EDI. Today, EDI encompasses all forms of B2B data communication, conversion, integration, collaboration, validation, translation, forecasting, government compliance, security, and {IMPORTANT} the business processes that utilize these transactions.

What's interesting is the trend of questions around who is best qualified to address a business process issue (which EDI generally has one part). For example, a common business issue is invoice matching. The issue is large enough that niche business service companies exclusively focus their approach on selling to the accounting department. Many times the account department might go ahead with a program without taking into account suppliers, customers, or other trading partners or silo initiatives. The EDI supervisor might know a better corporate-wide approach to alleviate the invoice matching issue. But he/she is often pigeonholed as an IT service provider who needs to react to the business need, not approach the business with proactive suggestions.

Accountants, buyers and other business line directors lack the deep understanding of the technology, industry, and best practices needed to make a corporate-wide decision on a business process solution that goes outside the four walls. They want to know who typically makes these decisions at other leading corporations.

EDI Managers/Directors/Supervisors: I think this is a great time in one's career to step up to the plate. Prove that you do more than run your dad's old EDI translator and have a big picture view of today's EDI needs above the segment level. Demonstrate that you understand the technology, the marketplace, and common best practices by pitching solutions to common business process issues. In my opinion, the EDI manager is well positioned to take the lead. The only question left for an EDI manager to ask is, "am I entrepreneurial business minded, confident, and do I have the communication skills needed to effectively influence decision-making across multiple departmental silos?"

If you need help in that area, I suggest taking a vacation to Eastern Tennessee and spend some time with the indigenous folks there. And don't worry as I've been told, "What happens in Appalachia stays in Appalachia."

Here is one unemployed bum possibly open to an EDI position in Nashville.

Reporting from the Big D today.

- Rob Guerriere, EVP, DataTrans Solutions

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