Different types of EDI files

EDI files are the basis of your trade. Sending files is the basic principle of computerized data exchange, whether upstream or downstream from the EDI platform. Going paperless is an effective way to simplify your company’s administrative tasks.

From simple flat files to standardized structured files, are a multitude of electronic formats are available to exchange commercial documents between you and your clients, and between your business’s departments. Let’s explore them.

Simple EDI file formats: variable and fixed flat files

What is a flat file?

A flat file is the most universal format for EDI files during the computer-to-computer exchange of business documents or data.

This type of EDI file potentially contains several sorts of records, such as head lines and retail lines. Head lines indicate what information is held within entire documents. Retail lines comprise commercial documents, such as lines of invoices or orders.

The definition of end-of-line characters (a line break) is different for Unix or Windows operating systems.

Tip: For good file recognition between different operating systems, consider converting to the appropriate format when transferring the file.

Variable flat files

A Variable-Sized Flat File (VFF) is when the data are separated from each other by a particular character such as a semicolon, vertical line, or tabulation. CSV format is the best-known example of this.

The specification document for a flat, variable-sized file describes each type of line, the sequence of the data fields, their numerical (or alphanumeric) type, and the file content.

Tip: Be careful not to confuse a CSV file with an Excel spreadsheet (.xls). The latter is not a flat file. It is difficult for an EDI platform to interpret.

The fixed flat file

When each field has a predetermined number of characters, there is no need to separate the data by a character. This is called a Fixed Flat File (or FFF). This is the case for one of the two possible formats of Systems, Applications and Products (SAP) software: iDocs.

A fixed flat file must be accompanied by a complete description containing the position, length, type (digital or alphanumeric), and content of each data field.

Tip: Be careful not to use the separator character when inputting data into a variable-sized flat file. For example, a comma placed in an address field would be interpreted as a separator and would shift the entire file playback.

Our interest in flat files is due to their ease of importing or exporting information, but they are also often small and lighten the volumes of computerized transactions. They are used mainly at the entrance (inputs) or exit (outputs) of the information system.

Example: The interface files of ERP software, such as SAP, CEGID or SAGE, are flat files.

Standardized, structured EDI files

One format that comes to mind when talking about EDI streams is XML where the data is presented using tags and rules that can be customized.

XML tags prioritize a file’s data.

XML as a markup language is relatively simple and also expandable and configurable, which means that any type of data can be described in this format. Some organizations have proposed standards:

Factur-X is a new standard of electronic invoice based on a readable PDF file attached to an XML file.

Tip: Beware of the size of XML files as these can quickly be much larger than a comparable EDI file.

Yet, how can we not mention EDI standards when talking about electronic exchanges?

Different EDI standards

EDI benchmarks allow documents to be exchanged in a standardized common language, and thus ensure interoperability.

An EDI document contains data elements and descriptive codes written in segment form. The whole thing is grouped into envelopes shaped according to the rules of syntax, and vocabulary of the chosen EDI standard.

One bonus is that EDI standards have been designed to take into account the needs of each industry.

The UN/EDIFACT standard

The UN/EDIFACT standard is widely used in Europe and covers a wide range of standardized messages for the exchange of business documents in many sectors, such asretailor industry.

EANCOM is a branch of EDIFACT and GS1 is its standardization body.

The most commonly used EDIFACT messages are orders (ORDERS), shipping notices (DESADV) and invoices (INVOIC).

When is the ANSI standard used?

The Electronic Data Interchange, American National Standards Institute X12 (ANSI ASC X12) standard is mainly used in the United States and Canada. EDIFACT is its equivalent outside of the United States.

ANSI X12 can, for example, easily hold 850 messages for purchase orders, 856 messages for delivery vouchers and 810 messages for electronic invoices.

About the ODETTE standard

In addition, the ODETTE standard (DELINS, CALDEL, AVIEXP or INVOIC) had been developed to improve exchanges between automotive partners. However, in Europe it has been gradually replaced by the UN/EDIFACT standard (DELFOR, DELJIT, DESADV or INVOIC).

In the European automotive industry, the ODETTE organization, and several national associations (GALIA, VDA, ODETTE SWEDEN, etc.) propose EDI recommendations based on UN/EDIFACT standards.

  1. The DELJIT stretched-flow delivery message, equivalent to the ODETTE CALDEL message and 830 messages in ANSI X12.
  2. The DELFOR delivery forecast message, equivalent to the ODETTE DELINS message and 862 messages in ANSI X12.

GALIA: the automotive industry’s standard-setting body

EDI standards include SWIFT (banking), TRADACOMS (UK specific) and VDA (a standard format specific to the German automotive industry).

Flat files, XML, EDI … you know, now, all about the different types of files that make it possible to exchange information electronically. Electronic files are convenient, for automating your invoices (paperless invoices), tracking documents sent electronically, and managing your data flow.

It is yet to be determined what the most appropriate format is, inside and out with the EDI solution. What is appropriate depends on the technology you use, but also the requirements of your industry.

For more than 30 years, Tenor has been supporting its customers and partners in the implementation of EDI files. Similarly, if this article has been of interest, we suggest this excellent article about the reliable audit track in paperless invoicing. You can also check out this page which summarizes Tenor’s EDI services. If you have questions do not hesitate to contact our experts.

What is the EDIFACT standard?

EDIFACT: EDI’s toolbox

EDIFACT is an English acronym for Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport.

The EDIFACT standard aims to secure and accelerate trade. It enables companies to communicate and exchange all their business documents in EDI format with suppliers and subcontractors within their supply chain. They may also be logisticians, distributors and have a B2B network. The required information is transferred directly from the company’s IT system (ERP, PGI) to the computer systems of their industrial and commercial partners (Commercial Management, Production Management, ESM, TMS, WMS).

In order for this communication to work efficiently, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it is necessary for each company’s information systems to communicate with one another according to strict and common rules. That is the goal of the EDIFACT standard. A standard put in place by the United Nations that defines the rules for the interoperability of EDI messages by specifying content and syntax.

What does the EDIFACT standard represent?

Depending on the industry and regional zones, different EDI standards have been developed, published and adopted, based on the EDIFACT standard. These redeveloped standards take into account the sectoral characteristics of each industry and region: EDI Automobile in France and Europe with GALIA, and ODETTE, EDI EANCOM for EDI Grande Distribution with GS1, are just two examples.

The EDIFACT standard: an EDI standard

An EDI standard sets the rules for framing the exchange of information: specify what information, in what format, and where it should be placed in an EDI message. As a result, EDI transmission between companies becomes fully automated.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, CEFACT-UN (The United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business), whose main mission is the facilitation of international trade, developed and published the Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport (EDIFACT).

The EDIFACT standard is a set of syntax rules that define a hierarchical and repetitive structure required for an EDI message, which is an envelope identifying the sender and recipient in which the messages are placed. In addition, the EDIFACT standard offers a library of more than 200 standard messages for the exchange of electronic business documents between companies. The best known are the ORDERS, DESADV, INVOIC, HANMOV, and PROCAT.

This publication was quickly a success: developed internationally, published and updated regularly, adopted by an exceptionally large number of economic players in industry and trade, and standards bodies.

A sectoral organizations’ toolbox

In fact, the EDIFACT standard has become an EDI toolbox for sectoral standards bodies, such as GALIA, ODETTE, and GS1, and for all private and public organizations that wish to set up the electronic exchange of their documents. This toolbox complies with the syntax rules of the EDIFACT standard and appropriate standard EDIFACT messages by enriching them according to their specific needs. GALIA and ODETTE have migrated their EDI Automobile to EDIFACT.

The result has been a shift from proprietary standards set by regional zones and by sector activity, to a standard common to all sectors that is favored by industry standards bodies and adopted by a large majority of companies.

EDI providers, independent of the IT services of large companies, have contributed to the rapid deployment of EDI in small- and medium-sized enterprises, allowing them to work with large contractors. Thus, PGI companies’ cloud-based ERP systems were able to easily and directly link documents with the Commercial Management, Transport Management, and Warehouse Management of their supply chain, and other commercial networks. Similarly, large companies have accelerated the integration of new partners into their networks.

A basic standard for all industries

The strength of the EDIFACT standard is its adaptability to the specific needs of all industries. It is the most widely used standard in France and Europe:

  • For EDI Automobile, the work of GALIA and ODETTE has contributed greatly to the success of EDIFACT. Thus, covering all exchanges between manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, and logisticians.
  • The EDIFACT standard is also the basis of the EANCOM standards that define EDI’s large distribution. These are exchanges in the world of mass distribution: businesses, manufacturers, transporters.
  • Most sector EDI standards have migrated to the EDIFACT standard: agriculture, public sector, and so on, enriching it.

EDIFACT has contributed to the spread of paperless commercial documents and the interoperability of information systems.

What future is there for this data-exchange standard?

Today, XML language is becoming the new benchmark for structuring and exchanging information. Indeed, it is better suited to interact with emerging technologies of the supply chain: consider, the Internet of Things (IOT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

XML is also more used than the EDIFACT standard in some parts of the world (the Pacific, Asia) and competes with EDIFACT in the exchange of trade documents.

Is a migration from the EDIFACT standard to XML possible?

At the moment the EDIFACT standard remains relevant:

  • The EDIFACT standard is regularly updated to incorporate new functional needs, and thus regularly integrates new information and new sectoral specificities.
  • The automotive and retail sector have made significant investments in EDI, to the EDIFACT standard, to the satisfaction of all stakeholders in their respective sectors. These have been productive investments that provide user satisfaction and which they wish to sustain over time.

EDIFACT and XML standards co-exist: EDIFACT remains the standard for paperless commercial documents in Business-to-Business exchanges. However, for the latest projects incorporating new technologies with new partners, the XML format is often chosen.

For more than 30 years, Tenor has been supporting you in setting up the EDIFACT Standard for your computerized data exchanges. Check out this article on EDI to delve deeper into the subject, or browse the one on EDI file types. Also, feel free to contact our EDI experts to identify your needs.

Supplier EDI. Onboarding, or how to ship all your suppliers via EDI.

Initiating a Supplier EDI Onboarding approach is a strategic benefit for your company’s trade. Exchanging data in a computerized way via paperless documents, such as digital invoices, holds considerable advantages for your business. Business management is made easier via innovative software solutions. This is the case, for example, for paperless invoicing.

Commencing a Supplier EDI Onboarding approach is not just a technical choice of EDI solution. There are multiple ways to turn this approach into a real “success story”.

The challenges of successful deployment

Set up EDI feeds with providers

Setting up EDI provider feeds is all well and good. But deploying electronic exchanges with all of your suppliers, whether large and small, and automating 100% of your document exchanges in the purchase-to-pay process is a significant way to save time and reduce business costs.

To benefit from the gains of an EDI purchase, you have to plan to expand this approach to all suppliers at the same time: this process is known as “Supplier EDI Onboarding”.

Increase EDI profits by systematizing EDI vendor deployment

The more messages and partners you obtain, the greater the benefits to your business as Computerized Data Exchange maximizes profits as the number of transactions and messages between interlocutors increases.

Its benefits are all the more important because many transactions and disseminated messages are relevant to your business.

Tip: Think about all the paper documents currently exchanged with your suppliers: from sending purchase orders, to receiving delivery orders, and electronic invoices, or even tax forms.

Streamline your distribution

The distribution phase must be simple, efficient, and fast to save employee time and quickly accomplish the profitability expected from the switchover.

The speed of supplier integration is an important factor to consider in the success of your project.

Once your EDI platform is ready, the steps that follow must be systematically conducted with each provider: a communication plan, registration and connection, compliance tests, certification for each scenario, the double-flow phase (paper and electronic track), and, finally, the production phase.

It is important to choose tools that enable effective tracking and the simple setting up of each vendor to the new system.

Tip: Supporting your purchasing department is essential for the success of this business project.

The keys to unlock your suppliers’ EDI Onboarding success

Here are some ideas to turn your EDI provider deployment into a real onboarding.

EDI Guidelines

First, create the requirements for your EDI switch (your EDI “specifications”). Broadcast to your suppliers what actions they need to take ahead of deployment, it will avoid misunderstandings, and simplify the testing phases.

For instance, your switchover may consist of an interchange contract, a document containing the types of message to be used, the frequency of messages, possible communication protocols, identifiers, and back-up procedures.

Your EDI guidelines should describe the standard message format chosen, the expected EDI format, and the required data for your new information system.

Tip: Explain the different functional scenarios and the corresponding EDI syntax in your specifications.

Your suppliers’ EDI onboarding communication plans

Communication is a major step to successful onboarding. Careful preparation is required to explain to your suppliers the benefits they will derive from the implementation of electronic data exchange, and what you expect from them.

The communication plan must be adapted to the different waves of its rollout. For instance, after evaluating overall supplier potential, group suppliers by turnover and transaction volume and focus first on key suppliers.

Tip: Communicate several times with your suppliers as EDI deployment progresses.

Self-test platforms

Depending on the number of vendors involved, it may be appropriate to implement self-testing platforms, such as Amazon or Volkwagen. These certification platforms allow suppliers to test the reception and syntax of the EDI message themselves.

An error report is automatically generated if the syntax is incorrect, allowing the message sender to make necessary corrections without soliciting the customer-side distribution team. Thanks to this verification system, integration is ensured before the green light is given for manufacture.

Tip: Prepare a few test messages (one per functional scenario) to allow your suppliers to optimize their certification phase.

Offer an alternative Web EDI

Your goal is to automate the processing of all transactions from your EDI suppliers. However, some will not be equipped with EDI; especially, small businesses. By offering them the opportunity to view or enter their business documents via a software solution, on a web portal, you benefit from the automation of these paperless exchanges with your computer system via the Internet, regardless of the provider.

Tip: With a Web EDI, immediately integrate all documents into your ERP. The contribution is immediate for your users and the EDI deployment can continue independently.

A dedicated onboarding team

To ensure the success of EDI rollout, it is imperative that a dedicated team monitors suppliers and ensures that system requirements are met. This role can be assumed within your company by an existing employee, or group of employees, or delegated to your EDI provider.

Tip: Save time and effort by entrusting EDI suppliers to an external partner to facilitate the process and ensure timely compliance.

Companies are betting that B2B flows will increase efficiency, increase competitiveness, and reduce costs in the supply chain. To succeed and benefit from all the gains of EDI, the rollout method is important: agility, efficiency, and speed are its pillars.

Tenor has been supporting its customers for more than 30 years in the dissemination of system changes to their EDI suppliers, as well as its EQP (Exchange Quality Platform) service, which ensures the validation and approval of your suppliers. Contact our experts to launch your supplier EDI onboarding project.

EDI a vital tool for the retail sector

The mass distribution of EDI (computerized data exchange) has been one of the major advances of the retail sector, who are pioneers in terms of EDI. For more than 30 years, paper documents have been replaced in this industry by electronic exchanges to control costs and streamline the supply chain.

Discover in this article how the retail industry is using computerized data exchange and what its challenges are for tomorrow.

The peculiarities of the retail sector

The constraints of the retail sector

Large and specialty supermarkets have a unique supply-chain structure where inventory management and rapid sales are both important requirements. Similarly, the management of a multitude of references, the volume of transactions, in-store availability, the management of uncertain demand, and the obligation to trace food and perishable goods, are constraints requiring efficiency and flexibility in the business process and large EDI distribution.

In retail, the slightest delay or snag in the supply chain directly affects the level of service to the end customer.

A pioneering sector in EDI

The retail sector was one of the first to automate document exchange, such as orders and customer invoices – for example, through purchasing centers. These practices have encouraged the emergence of EDI large-scale distribution.

Subsequently, the automation of the receipt of electronic shipping notices was the industry’s solution to relieve congestion on warehouse receiving docks as a result of the increased frequency of deliveries.

The implementation of large-scale EDI workflows has saved time and improved inventory status. As a result, the company’s responsiveness to the unexpected has greatly improved.

For trade to go smoothly, one of the most important issues in this industry is Global Data Synchronization (GDS).

Each supplier provides a reference file for its goods, relating to product information on products, classifications, authorizations, prices, and promotions.

EDI scenarios exploited in the retail sector

A classic EDI scenario

The classic EDI scenario involves the sending of purchase orders (ORDERS EDIFACT) and the receipt of corresponding delivery vouchers (DESADV EDIFACT) and invoices (INVOIC EDIFACT), between the supermarket and its suppliers.

In Europe, the EDIFACT standard is most commonly used in large-scale industries. GS1is responsible for managing the overall implementation of bar codes in standardized messages.

In the case of cross-docking, the supplier must deliver products to a single warehouse grouped in separate batches which are and destined for different end points. Allotted orders and shipping notices are then utilized.

NOTE: Allotted orders are also sent electronically in the EDI ORDERS format (and DESADV messages for corresponding shipping notices).

DESADV messages are key for food traceability. It makes it possible to reconcile each pallet with batch numbers and use-by dates to get them where they need to go in a timely fashion.

NOTE: With regard to electronic billing, which is widespread in this sector, paperless tax is possible thanks to a suitable computer system that meets the needs of processing and archiving large volumes of documents, at a lower cost.

A focus on the shared management of EDI retail supplies

SSM (Shared Supply Management) is a method of organization in which logistics providers are jointly involved in supply management.

SSM enables a collaborative approach to supply-chain management with reduced inventory levels, supply times, and the total cost of the supply chain.

Two types of SSM are:

  • VMI (Vendor Managed Inventory): the manufacturer is solely responsible for supply-chain replenishment based on the sales data provided to it. This is the main mode of supply, in particular, in the retail sector;
  • CMI (Co-Managed Inventory): the supplier proposes the replenishment of supplies to the distributor according to previously established rules, and the distributor’s approval is required before any final delivery.

NOTE: EDI messages used in SSM are stock inventories (INVRPT) and sales data (SLSRPT). Based on this information, the supplier offers a delivery via an ORDER proposal and receives an ORDER confirmation in return.

What is the future of EDI in retail?

Changing consumer habits

The decline of superstores, the development of e-commerce, the explosion of convenience stores, home delivery, health crises, food waste, and transparency demand … are signs that the retail industry is constantly forced to reinvent itself, especially on the Web/Internet.

To meet these new challenges, it is important that businesses have access to comprehensive, reliable, and up-to-date product information when it is needed.

According to the EDI retail solution, this means enriching the information gathered from the sales of consumer products and making them more qualitative.

Establishing a reliable, efficient, and responsive supply chain

Throughout all the future changes that await them, retail companies will need to be able to rely on a reliable and flexible supply chain. This naturally leads to the establishment of communication protocols and closer partnerships between suppliers and distributors.

Automatically recovering suppliers’ inventory statements and communicating with them via Internet and Web solutions are avenues for future developments.

EDI is mainly used by industry players, and is approaching its maximum development level. Faced with the increased complexity of supply chains and the need for real-time data transmission, it may be time to take a new step and turn to a promising field: block chain.

The goal of retail players and their suppliers is to provide the right product to their end customers: to the right place, at the right time, and at the right price. This would not be possible without computerized and efficient B2B exchange – which are also key to meeting the challenges of the future.

An expert on EDI in the automotive market, Tenor is also a major player in EDI in retail. If you are interested in the topic, check out this excellent article on EDIFACT. Please contact our teams about your project.

Choosing your EDI provider, a strategic opportunity

Improving the efficiency of your management system, optimizing your business processes, reducing costs … So many expected benefits await enterprises with the deployment of EDI. Benefits, that is, that depend on what solution they choose.

And which impacts the image portrayed to your business partners and to all your users. Thus, security and reliability must be at the heart of all future EDI solutions.

Overall, the installation and maintenance of an EDI platform requires a high level of expertise that should not be entrusted to novices.

Especially, since these kinds of systems are is often implemented at the start of a long-term commitment.

1. Analyze and understand your EDI needs

Cost alone is not reason enough to select your future provider.

You must carefully define your requirements for your current and future EDI system, and the added value it will bring your business.

To do so, it is important to ask yourself a number of questions:

  • What kind of implementation do you envision?
  • What services do you expect from the EDI platform?
  • Will you implement paperless taxation and invoices?
  • How many EDI streams do you need?
  • Does your core business require “real-time” and 24/7 response?
  • What types of dashboards and visibility will your users require?

Then, all that remains is to select EDI providers that meet your expectations point by point.

To make a first selection based on your business and the services it offers, GS1 France provides a list of EDI solution providers on its website.

2. Choose your EDI provider

Adequate solution and quality of service

At this stage, it is important to find the solution that is easily integrated with your computer system or ERP, and one that covers all of your needs.

Whether you opt for an outsourced solution in Software as a service (Saas) mode, a software solution, or a Web EDI, you will need to choose a multi-standard solution and multi-protocol communication to be able to communicate with all your current partners.

If your company operates in several countries, your selected EDI solution must be able to operate internationally and in accordance with the technical and legal constraints of the countries concerned, especially for electronic invoices.

You will also need to look at the strength and sustainability of the EDI supplier:

  • Are they familiar with your industry and do they have several references for this?
  • Are they certified?
  • Has the supplier proven themselves in the field?
  • Does working with them guarantee your legal obligations in the context of paperless invoices, especially at the level of archiving?
  • Are previous customers who use its solutions and services satisfied?

TIP: Make sure that the EDI provider will provide you with all the resources you need to build your EDI system as you expect it and on time.

Good technical skills

An EDI platform that works without error is a real joy and added value for your information systems.

But a dysfunctional EDI platform can seriously affect your productivity and your relationships with your business partners.

Hence the importance of choosing an EDI provider whose infrastructure and technical knowledge are serious and guaranteed to meet correct SLA standards.

The Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a contractual document committing the provider to ensure a certain level of service and the availability of its platforms. This article provides more information about SLA .

Reliable support or technical service

Once you’ve deployed your first EDI feeds, the support team will be your main point of contact.

Monitoring, error management, reliability of responses, correction of recurring errors, responsiveness … these are things to be aware of before you commit.

TIP: Check to see if support is available in your users’ languages and if their available time slots cover your needs.

Being ergonomic and accessible at all times, will allow your users to be able to autonomously view their documents.

EDI service Pricing

The volume of data exchanged often defines the price. There may also be costs associated with the use of a particular communication network (ENX, OFTP). Some providers may offer flat-rate subscriptions.

TIP: Compare the different offers and consider the future development of your EDI communications. This will give you the most advantageous pricing.

A long-term view of your EDI

Nothing is fixed in an EDI system. You will receive progressive requests from your partners. You’ll also want to bring someone in to optimize your streams.

As your business grows you’ll deploy new messages or connect to new partners.

Therefore, your EDI service provider must be able to respond to these requests for change. In addition, it must offer the latest technologies and complete interoperability at all times. This will help meet future demands.

In summary, setting up EDI promises a lot of benefits for your business. Nevertheless, the chosen solution offers a quality service in which the role of the EDI provider is crucial.

It’s time to make the right choice!

For more than 30 years, Tenor has been supporting companies in the industrial, automotive, and retail sectors in their EDI and EDI supplier rollouts. If you are interested in this topic, check out this article about vendor support or contact us to discuss the options for your EDI project.

Start your EDI project today, contact us:

Definition of EDI

The abbreviation EDI means Echange de Données Informatisé in French, which translates as Electronic Data Interchange.

Computer-to-computer exchange

EDI can be defined as the computer-to-computer exchange of transaction data using standardized computer networks and formats.

As shown in the diagram below, information from the transmitter’s computer system (Partner A) passes through networks to Partner B’s computer system to be automatically integrated for easy access.

Application (ERP) Application (ERP)

Partner A        Partner B

How to understand EAI

This leads to the following questions:

  • What is being exchanged? There is a need to agree between partners what information/documents to exchange and what form of Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) to select.
  • How do you make exchanges? Perhaps the transportation of information via certain forms of media requires specific communication protocols.

Current use of EAI

Today, when you shop at the supermarket, more than 90% of the products you buy have been ordered by EDI systems, or even paperless billing after the shipping notice has been transferred in the same way.

This leads to:

  • Savings in time and money,
  • A reduction of typing errors.

Tenor has been supporting you in setting up your EDIs for over 30 years. Discover all of our EDI solutions that meet your flow management and exchange needs. Also take a look at this excellent article on the EDI vendor support, the cornerstone of your strategy. Please contact our EDI experts’ advise on how to launch your project quickly and efficiently.