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Understanding EDI Files: The Heroes of Business Data Exchange

EDI files are the building blocks of any EDI system. They’re the unsung heroes that quietly work behind the scenes, forging stronger trading partner relationships. This article walks you through their structure and benefits.

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Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is the foundation of business-to-business communication in the digital age. It allows businesses to exchange and process essential documents and information digitally in a standardized format. This not only helps eliminate paperwork but minimizes human errors and enhances productivity.

EDI files are the building blocks of any EDI system. They’re the unsung heroes that quietly work behind the scenes, forging stronger trading partner relationships. This article walks you through their structure and benefits. If you want to optimize your business operations, this article is for you.


What Are EDI Files?

An EDI file is a structured text file generated and processed by EDI software. Each EDI file corresponds to a specific type of business document, like an invoice, purchase order, or advanced shipping notice. But unlike a paper document, it’s designed to be read by a computer, not a human.

The data in EDI files are organized using standard formats agreed upon by industry bodies, such as the ANSI X12 standard commonly used in North America or the UN/EDIFACT standard. Each file comprises EDI segments, elements, and sub-elements that collectively provide all the information recipients need to take the appropriate action.


How Does Using EDI Facilitate Electronic Transactions?

The key to EDI and its ability to facilitate electronic transactions is standardization. By converting documents into a standardized digital format, it enables seamless interaction between trading partners and their internal systems like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), Content Management Systems (CMS), and accounting software.

EDI plays a vital role in driving digital transformation and automating business processes. It eliminates the need for manual, paper-based, and faxed order processes, transactions, and communications, improving efficiency and accuracy. With the removal of manual document creation, transfer, and receipt, speed, and agility dramatically improve. But that’s not all. Here is a list of key benefits:


10 Advantages of Implementing EDI Software:
  1. Greater Speed and Efficiency: EDI software replaces slower, error-prone manual processes with a highly efficient automated system. It enables the quick creation, sending, and receiving of vast numbers of documents, freeing up employees to focus on more important tasks.
  2. Improved Accuracy: EDI software enhances data accuracy by eliminating manual input, which is prone to human error. Standardized formats and protocols ensure data completeness and accuracy. The software flags any inconsistencies, enabling quick rectification.
  3. Cost Reduction: The automation offered by EDI software helps cut costs on paper, printing, stamps, and storage, along with labor costs. It also reduces the likelihood of costly mistakes and delays, helping avoid fines, refund requests, and chargebacks.
  4. Enhanced Security: EDI software enhances data exchange security through encryption, authentication, and access controls.
  5. Improved Data Visibility: EDI software allows for efficient storage, access, and analysis of data. It gives businesses a clearer picture of their operations, aiding in strategic decision-making.
  6. Seamless Integration: EDI software (especially cloud-based solutions) can easily integrate with existing systems like ERP and CRM.
  7. Scalability: EDI software can easily be scaled to accommodate a business's growth and increasing transaction volumes without disruption or a substantial increase in operational costs.
  8. Environmental Sustainability: EDI's reduction in paper usage and transport of physical documents promotes environmental sustainability, a growing concern in today's business world.
  9. Strengthened Business Relationships: EDI software helps strengthen business relationships by improving efficiency, accuracy, responsiveness, and trust.


Common Types of EDI Files

EDI files come in hundreds of different types, each designed for a specific purpose and carrying unique data. Some of the most common EDI file types (EDI numbers) include:

EDI 850 (Purchase Order)

The EDI 850 is a Purchase Order transaction set used to place an order for goods or services. It contains items, quantities, prices, and shipping instructions.

EDI 810 (Invoice)

This is an Invoice transaction set that provides billing for goods or services provided. It contains invoice dates, items, quantities, prices, and payment terms.

EDI 856 (Advance Ship Notice)

The EDI 856 is an Advance Ship Notice transaction set. It provides detailed information about a pending delivery of goods.

Lesser-Known Transaction Numbers

Beyond the regular business documents such as invoices, purchase orders, and advanced shipping notices, EDI also presents an opportunity to eliminate manual data entry and reduce errors in less common scenarios. The following examples highlight the expansive range of EDI applications:

EDI 159 - Motion Picture Booking Confirmation: This transaction set is used in the film industry for the booking and delivery confirmation of motion pictures.

EDI 625 - Well Information: This transaction set can be used to facilitate the exchange of well information. It's used primarily in the oil industry.

EDI 249 - Animal Toxicological Data: This transaction set can be used by research institutes or animal breeders to exchange data related to toxicology studies in animals.


The EDI Workflow: EDI Files In Action

To bring EDI files to life, let’s use a simple example of a manufacturer, distributor, and retailer (such as Amazon or Walmart). See how the EDI flow streamlines and automates otherwise slow, error-prone, manual processes and workflows.

Manufacturer to Distributor: The manufacturer creates an ​​Inventory Inquiry/Advice (EDI 846) file containing inventory availability and other relevant information and sends it to the distributor via a secure EDI connection.

Distributor: The distributor updates its inventory levels based on the information received. If it wants to order more products, it can send a Purchase Order (EDI 850) back to the manufacturer.


Distributor to Retailer: Once the distributor has processed the inventory, they send an Advance Ship Notice (EDI 856) to the retailer, indicating what has been shipped and when it's expected to arrive.

Retailer: The retailer uses the information to update their inventory and logistical data. When they sell a product to a customer, they may send a Sales Report (EDI 867) back to the wholesaler, indicating how much product has been sold so the wholesaler can plan their inventory accordingly.

Back to Manufacturer: In some cases, the sales information may be relayed back to the manufacturer by the wholesaler. This could come in the form of a Sales Report (EDI 867) or Product Activity Data (EDI 852), depending on the level of detail needed. The manufacturer can then use this information to forecast future production.

All Parties: Functional acknowledgments (EDI 997) are continuously sent back and forth to confirm receipt and acceptance of each EDI transaction.


Final Thoughts and Your Next Steps

So, now you know the basics about EDI files and their immense potential for your business. We’ve explained how integrating EDI into your operations can streamline processes, reduce errors, supercharge efficiency, and open up new, lucrative trading partnership opportunities.

Yet, this exploration merely scratches the surface of the world of EDI. Each business is unique, and so are its requirements. If you’d like to delve deeper into your specific needs and access guidance on the most advantageous and cost-effective EDI solution, contact one of our EDI experts today. We’re here to help.