EDI Mapping: Best Practices & Software Solutions

EDI mapping is a simple concept. The objective is to connect two systems to automate communication. When sending EDI transactions, you must map data from your system of record to an EDI file. And when you’re receiving EDI transactions, you must map data from the EDI file to your system of record.

While EDI mapping sounds simple enough, as you start using EDI with more supply chain partners, it becomes an arduous task. A growing number of companies are seeking relief from EDI mapping and a few EDI solution providers are offering innovative solutions to this challenge. The results are improved on-boarding times, reduced costs, and elimination of management complexity.

A quick background of EDI data mapping

Electronic data interchange (EDI) standardization evolved from the need to simplify communications between trade partners. When executed correctly, it eliminates miscommunication and enables streamlined automation for overall smoother processes.

However, EDI is rarely without complexities.

A company’s trade ecosystem consists of multiple (if not hundreds of) partners with dissimilar practices and data formats, especially if operating in different industries or countries. If internal documents are sent directly to one another’s business system for automated actions, miscommunication would be inevitable. Consequently, any inaccuracies cause regular trade operations to be much slower because they become time-intensive to correct.

In response, document data must be mapped and translated between the supplier’s EDI and the retailer’s ERP (enterprise resource planning) so separate systems extract the same meaning. For example, a buyer seeking pricing information can create a user-friendly document that, through EDI data mapping, converts to an EDI 840 (formatted in adherence to North American X12 standards). The recipient’s computerized system would understand the EDI 840 and auto-generate an EDI 843 (Response to Request for Quotation) with the necessary data.

Why EDI data mapping can be complex

The basic definition of EDI mapping is the process of modeling data into a format both the sender’s and recipient’s software can correctly interpret. Yet don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a single-step procedure without the potential to fail. Inherent EDI mapping intricacies include:

  • Each trade partner’s requirements for document translation are different. While EDI guidelines like X12 and Edifact provide widely-accepted standardization of documents, this uniformity does not extend to the sending-or-receiving ERPs or TMSs.

    In short, not all trade partners operate the same. For instance, retailers like Wal-Mart and Lowes each have their own unique qualifications (and in-depth handbooks) that further vary based on vendor type. Plus, integrations with third-party logistics (3PL) companies, distributors, carriers, and manufacturers increasingly diversify the type of transactions for which your EDI mapping must account.

    Here’s an example:

    • The BEG02 element (Purchase Order Type Code) is a mandatory element for an ANSI X12 850 purchase order. Yet Walmart and Lowes have different values that they will pass for the BEG02. The type of purchase order may require the ERP system to do something special or different.
    • Lowes will pass certain values that will tell you if the order should ship to a particular Lowes store, or directly to their customer.
    • Walmart has its own values to say that an order is a drop ship order. What if Walmart’s drop ship order type value is the same as one of the values that Lowes passes, but they mean different things?
    • Imagine there is a 3rd or 4th trading partner in the mix? Would their systems require different values? You can see how complex EDI mapping can get.

    Orderful users’ ERPs can automatically tap into the program’s network of active connectors to ensure correct data mapping. Alternatively, operators who choose manual document conversion must individually verify adherence to each trade partners’ directives.

  • The testing of connections is rarely straightforward. Industry best practices suggest that you test your EDI data mapping for discrepancies. Ideally, this is done for multiple scenarios that require interactions from both systems, such as the buyer creating an 850 (purchase order) and the seller auto-generating 855 (purchase order acknowledgment).

    To avoid mapping testing hurdles or accidentally falsified results, we suggest that the EDI documents be as close to “real” as possible—no faux codes for shipment locations or item numbers. What’s more, we suggest that each document inherently includes what information the recipient needs or guidelines for execution; preferably, your EDI software would not allow the test to “pass” if required fields are incomplete.

  • Inaccurate EDI data mapping can have costly consequences. We cannot discuss the potential pitfalls of imprecise EDI mapping without also acknowledging the ramifications. In the best case scenario, you accrue chargeback fees (or expenses offset) for failing to comply with the agreed-upon document guidelines. In many situations, the fallout of inaccurate EDI data mapping muddies or halts key functions like shipments, invoice handling, accurate bookkeeping, etc. This wastes time and resources for everyone involved and can harm your professional reputation.

Companies can take steps to minimize EDI data mapping errors, regardless of whether your business is newly formed or enterprise-sized.

Software alternatives to manual EDI mapping

Without automation, EDI mapping often requires two designated individuals, a “mapper” and a developer. The first maps each field from the source to the target system within a spreadsheet while ensuring that their data adheres to the latest version of each partners’ specifications. The developer then turns the manually mapped data into code the receiving software can process.

Even with the best professionals and manual procedures in place, you can expect humans to be human. If and when mistakes arise, inaccurate EDI mapping obstructs multi-system integration, hinders operations, and potentially sours working relationships. Plus, as sales channels grow and further diversify, companies will learn the hard way that manpower is not a scalable solution.

Thankfully, this isn’t the only option for companies. Sophisticated EDI software like Orderful automates data mapping while enabling users to make custom adjustments as needed.

“Orderful chose to make its EDI solution a cloud-based API for multiple reasons,” notes our CEO Erik Kiser. “With each new customer, the collective knowledge of the network evolves, empowering users to leverage an increasing number of pre-set connectors. This—combined with the Orderful support team and the regular introduction of new software features—lets companies automate EDI mapping with maximum accuracy and efficiency, no matter the number of trade partners.”

Instead of companies executing point-to-point EDI mapping and data integrations, they’re able to leverage Orderful’s network consisting of thousands of existing trade partners. For many customers, this means that they’re responsible for individually mapping 90% fewer connections. They’re also able to automate numerous functions, such as:

  • Document transformation to JSON and X12
  • Instantaneous EDI data validation prior to partner interactions to confirm accurate mapping
  • Easy rule creation for swift resolutions to data errors
  • Multiple visual interpretations of EDI data so information is both user-friendly and mapping-friendly

Considerations when choosing EDI software

When determining if your selected EDI software is up to the task, consider the following:

Can your EDI software convert larger file sizes (such as X12) to JSON? One of the biggest challenges with EDI mapping is that almost everyone has adopted X12 files in compliance with North American standards. However, your ERP will have an easier time processing lightweight file types like XML or JSON. The trouble is, converting your X12 files to XML or JSON adds an extra step to your processes unless you implement an automated solution. While some EDI solutions like Orderful have no trouble transforming X12 to JSON, don’t assume that all software has this functionality.

Are you able to implement rules to customize EDI mapping automation settings? Because different partners have different needs, you’ll want an EDI solution that lets you customize automated processes based on predetermined rules.

Which EDI interactions and data mapping actions evoke fees? If your EDI provider has a pricing model based on the number of transactions and/or the number of kilobytes, this can lead to unexpected and increasing charges. Look for a simpler pricing model, based on the number of trading partners. This is how Orderful’s pricing works.

Are there scenarios in which an EDI mapping specialist is necessary? As every business owner knows, unforeseen situations or questions arise from time to time. Having access to a specialist can put your mind at ease and help you navigate unfamiliar scenarios.

The real consideration is whether it’s worth the expense to have an in-house resource or designated consultant on retainer. For many companies, the answer is no. Leading self-service EDI solutions providers like Orderful provide direct access to EDI experts as part of their programs, for no extra costs. In fact, you can even schedule a free 30-minute consultation with an Orderful EDI expert, regardless of whether you use our software.

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