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Overcoming Urgent Challenges in the 3PL Industry with EDI

Discover how electronic data interchange (EDI) addresses mounting challenges in the 3PL industry.

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From spiraling costs to the “War for Talent,” today’s 3PLs are up against it. Digital transformation is demanding significant investments in updated systems and infrastructure. And with eCommerce customers demanding Amazon-level deliveries, 3PLs are being pressed to deliver faster, often with tighter margins.

Electronic data interchange (EDI) offers solutions to these and many other critical difficulties facing the third-party logistics industry today. In this article, we’ll examine some of the existential challenges (as identified by Statista, McKinsey & Co., and others) and explain how EDI can help resolve them.

Let’s dive in.


What Is 3PL EDI Integration?

EDI refers to the structured transmission of data between organizations through electronic means. It allows 3PLs and their trading partners to communicate seamlessly, exchanging essential documents like purchase orders, invoices, advanced shipping notices, and much more–without paper or manual intervention.

Here’s a brief rundown of EDI’s core benefits:

Efficiency and Speed: Manual document interchange through fax, mail, and email is prone to errors and delays. EDI automates the exchange, making it fast and accurate, which is crucial for real-time inventory management, order processing, and billing.

Cost Savings: By eliminating paper-based processes and reducing errors, 3PLs can save significantly on operational costs.

Standardization: EDI provides a standardized format, ensuring that all parties, regardless of their internal systems or processes, can understand and process exchanged data–automatically.

Scalability: EDI's automated processes can scale to meet increasing demands without a proportional increase in costs, confusion, or headcount.


3PL Transaction Sets

EDI uses “transaction sets” to standardize the exchange of information. Each transaction set corresponds to a specific type of business document. Here are some common examples used by 3PLs:

  • EDI 204 - Motor Carrier Load Tender: Used to request a shipment pickup from a 3PL provider.
  • EDI 211 - Bill of Lading: Contains shipment details and is used to acknowledge the receipt of a shipment.
  • EDI 212 - Motor Carrier Delivery Trailer Manifest: Used by 3PLs to provide details about the contents of a shipment.
  • EDI 214 - Transportation Carrier Shipment Status Message: Keeps all parties informed about the status of a shipment, including any delays or changes.
  • EDI 215 - Motor Carrier Pick-up Manifest: Used by carriers to provide details about shipments they’ve collected.
  • EDI 216 - Motor Carrier Shipment Pick-up Notification: Notifies a 3PL provider when a shipment is ready to be picked up.
  • EDI 940 - Warehouse Shipping Order: Used by a business to inform the warehouse to ship an order.
  • EDI 945 - Warehouse Shipping Advice: Confirms that the warehouse has shipped the order.
  • EDI 997 - Functional Acknowledgment: Confirms that an EDI transaction was received.

It’s easy to imagine how companies can stay aligned with these transaction sets that are pinged automatically between trading partners.


Addressing 3PL Industry Challenges: The Power of EDI

While the benefits of EDI are clear, its true power lies in addressing the various challenges facing the 3PL industry. Let’s take a look at some of these challenges and explain how EDI can help 3PLs overcome them.


1. Capacity Constraints: With demand outpacing supply, capacity constraints are severely impacting the 3PL industry's ability to meet customer needs.

EDI software provides 3PL companies with real-time shipment and inventory data exchange. 3PLs can use this information to optimize warehouse space, transportation schedules, and resource allocation. This ensures better visibility, informed decision-making, and enhanced scalability amidst capacity challenges.


2. Talent Shortage: The talent shortage is reaching crisis levels, leaving many 3PLs unable to fill critical roles to support operations and growth.

By streamlining and automating logistical processes, EDI reduces the need for manual labor. 3PLs can achieve much more with the human resources they already have. They can also onboard new hires more quickly. Furthermore, eliminating tedious tasks like data entry makes going to work more enjoyable, helping increase retention.


3. Rising Costs: Soaring costs for labor, real estate, equipment, and more are squeezing tight margins across the 3PL sector.

EDI's automation and real-time data interchange enable instant updates on fluctuating costs. This empowers 3PLs to adjust pricing dynamically, implement cost-saving measures, and foster client trust with accurate billing.


4. Regulatory Compliance: Keeping pace with an ever-changing regulatory environment–often on a global scale–puts tremendous pressure on 3PLs striving for compliance.

EDI systems have updated regulatory databases, ensuring adherence to international standards. Automation reduces errors, and real-time alerts notify of potential breaches or regulatory changes, making compliance management efficient.


5. Sustainability Concerns: Customers are calling for sustainable business practices, but many 3PLs lack the resources and strategic vision to reduce their environmental impact.

EDI helps 3PLs identify route inefficiencies, optimize for fuel efficiency, and collaborate with eco-friendly partners. It minimizes paper usage and provides insights into sustainability metrics.


6. Lack of Visibility: Limited transparency into global supply chains reduces efficiency.

EDI offers real-time data on shipments, inventory, transportation status, and more. 3PLs can monitor operations on the fly–at a global scale–and pass on accurate information, fostering trust and transparency in the supply chain.


7. Tight Margins: Razor-thin margins leave little room for error or investments in innovation by 3PLs.

EDI reduces manual intervention, cutting operational costs. It identifies inefficiencies, enables targeted optimization, and aids in strategic decision-making, ensuring profitability in a fiercely competitive landscape.

8. Customer Experience: Customer demands have never been higher, and many 3PLs are finding it tough to consistently meet and exceed expectations.

What customers hate–even more than delayed shipments–is not being warned in good time when things go wrong. EDI ensures accurate data exchange, minimizing misunderstandings. Its automated notification system keeps stakeholders informed, increasing customer satisfaction.


Building a Future-Proof 3PL with EDI

In today’s rapidly changing world, the most agile companies usually win. It’s the same for 3PLs–they need to constantly evolve to stay ahead of the curve. This means not only addressing present-day challenges but also anticipating the future needs of the industry.

Here’s how EDI can help pave the way for a more resilient, forward-looking 3PL business:

3PL Integration

With emerging technologies like IoT, AI, and blockchain gaining traction, EDI can serve as an integration point. It facilitates seamless data flow between these advanced systems and your 3PL's operations, fostering innovation.

Predictive Analytics

As businesses increasingly rely on big data and analytics, EDI provides a rich source of accurate, real-time data. This data can be harnessed to derive actionable insights, predict market trends, and make bold strategic decisions.

Enhancing Partner Ecosystems

3PLs often collaborate with hundreds of partners–from carriers and warehouse providers to technology vendors. EDI simplifies partner onboarding, ensures standardized communication, and cements your place in the partner ecosystem of the future.

Enhanced Security

As cyber threats become more sophisticated and prevalent, securing sensitive data is paramount for 3PLs. EDI offers robust encryption and authentication mechanisms, protecting data transmissions from unauthorized access and breaches. This safeguards data integrity and instills confidence among partners.



The challenges confronting 3PLs today are substantial. From capacity constraints and rising costs to talent shortages and tight margins–they can feel insurmountable. But the future is bright for 3PLs who embrace digital transformation. By leveraging EDI's automation, efficiency, and real-time visibility, 3PLs can overcome these hurdles and thrive.

Partnering with EDI experts is vital to capitalize on EDI's benefits. 1 EDI Source has over three decades of experience successfully implementing EDI for companies of all sizes. Let us help tailor an EDI platform to meet your needs. Contact us today to schedule a demo and take the first step towards an even more profitable future.