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Understanding the Basics of EDI


What is EDI XML?

EDI XML is a means of formatting EDI data in an Extensible Markup Language (XML) format. EDI XML has been a hot topic going as far back as 1998. In truth however, the use of EDI XML has not yet materialized to any great extent. In some scandinavian countries EDI XML has become used to a high degree; but the benefits often promised by EDI XML have not been realized since these are simple translations of EDI messages to an EDI XML format. The promise of EDI XML was one of a fully integrated, easy to deploy standard that would make EDI obsolete. The reality of EDI XML, however, has been a lot more challenging.

The Birth of EDI XML

In the late 1990s the EDI XML file format promised an easier to understand, easier to use business-to-business exchange of data that would replace EDI. This EDI XML format promised to be easier to understand, easier to use and easier to integrate into in-house systems than traditional EDI formats. Over time however the EDI XML promise of an easier to live-with EDI has not materialized and EDI XML is still relegated to expert users who have deep understandings of not only XML but also of EDI and the business processes involved.


The Problems of EDI XML

One of the biggest issues with EDI XML has been the incredibly large file-sizes associated with EDI XML. In fact an EDI XML file can be up to a thousand times larger than a comparable EDI file increasing the burden on organizations using EDI XML, networks, storage systems and processing systems. In addition, EDI XML has proven to be as difficult to deploy and learn as traditional EDI. EDI XML has not shown to date that it can make the EDI integration process any easier or any more flexible, negating any practical reasons to adopt EDI XML.


Is EDI XML Dead?

While EDI XML has not yet seen a high degree of success in the marketplace, there have been limited EDI XML adoptions. The Rosetta Net standard is an EDI XML standard that has seen some degree of success in specific industries. In addition, EDI standards bodies like the UN and ANSI are working on creating EDI XML standards that would make the adoption of EDI XML easier. This push to "fix" EDI XML is driven primarily by academic personnel who see the theoretical value of EDI XML in contrast to day-to-day practitioners of EDI who have yet to see real-world practical benefits to EDI XML. As the adoption of broadband increases and as storage and processing costs continue to lower, the longer-term value of EDI XML may increase; but as we will see later there are still larger problems that EDI XML has to overcome.


EDI XML as a Feature

Many EDI software vendors have begun to tout EDI XML as key features of their software. For the small business this brings up the key question - should I be thinking about adopting EDI XML? The short answer is no - while EDI XML has shown theoretical value, the large retailers that drive adoption of EDI abandoned their EDI XML plans long ago and have continued to use traditional EDI since EDI XML has yet to provide any significantly increased value that would justify the high cost of conversion. Along the same lines as a business you should consider EDI XML as a 'peripheral' technology until large retailers like Wal-Mart and Target begin to demand use of EDI XML.


Advantages of EDI XML

EDI XML does have some potential benefits. Since XML is a language that is frequently used in the data integration process, EDI XML could in theory make the process easier. The challenge for EDI XML will be the same as it has been in the EDI world. Since most trading partners have developed unique, individual "implementations" of EDI the same is likely to happen with EDI XML. This individualization of the standard negates any benefit that might be gained by using an easier to use format like EDI XML. The challenge for the standards bodies driving adoption of EDI XML is two-fold, first they must show that EDI XML can provide significant advantages over standard EDI, second they must convince the large retailers to adopt EDI XML as a single, unified standard - both things that are not likely to happen any time soon.


How EDI XML Affects You

Should you consider EDI XML? DiCentral DiTranslator Software does support EDI XML; but we have had such little requests for it that it is turned on only when requested. If a trading partner is asking you to use EDI XML, your default answer should be no. Unless the trading partner in question can give you concrete reasons and benefits to using EDI XML you should get them to agree to use traditional EDI. In the long run it will save both you and your trading partner money.

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