Two organizations communicating electronically with EDI must follow the same rules for how they format the data. This is necessary so they know (or their computers know) where to find particular pieces of information within the message.
Fortunately, there are such rules that govern various aspects of formatting EDI data. These rules – called EDI Standards – ensure that everyone participating in EDI is, in effect, speaking the same language.
Setting the Standards – Where EDI Standards Come From
In the United States, organizations traditionally followed the ANSI standards for EDI document formats. ANSI – the American National Standards Institute – is a private, non-profit organization that oversees the development of voluntary consensus standards for products, services, processes, systems and more. A specific ANSI committee, ANSI ASC X12, developed the most common standard for EDI. The standard is often referred to simply as “ASC X12,” or even just “X12.”
Outside the U.S., the international EDI standard is EDIFACT (Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport), developed under the United Nations.
The Elements of EDI Standards – What Standards Address
Whether following ANSI ASC X12 or EDIFACT, the standards define the structure of data within various documents. A single EDI transmission may include one or more documents, such as invoices, insurance claims, etc. In the ASC X12 standard, each document type is defined, referenced by a three-digit number, such as 837 for a healthcare claim, 810 for an invoice, and so on.
Traditionally, EDI specifically represented one formatting structure for data following the industry standards. Today, however, EDI can include many different formats of these documents, including XML, CSV, fixed length and more. The information – individual data elements, such as dates, item numbers, order quantities and the like – is organized within the message, according to the EDI standards, into groups and smaller units. The combination of data that forms a single message or document is called a “transaction set,” according to the X12 standard.
EDI standards are generally independent of communication methods. That is, EDI can be transmitted using any number of methodologies, also called protocols. A fairly common method used today is called AS2 (Applicability Statement 2). AS2 provides specific security measures for data transmitted over the Internet.
Need help managing your AS2 communications? Our world-class AS2 software, AS2 Complete, makes it easy to send secure EDI or other data.
Want to learn more about EDI? Read about EDI Translation and EDI Data Mapping. You can also download EDI 101, our FREE EDI resource booklet written by the experts at 1EDISource.