EDI Stories from the Field

Over the years of doing EDI consulting, we have found that many otherwise successful companies find themselves facing great difficulties conducting electronic data exchange with vendors and customers. We estimate that many companies blindly lose 10 to 30 percent of their revenue to penalties, lost of sales etc.

Story 1: The Cash Flow Disaster

A mid-sized retail company found themselves conducting a big part of their business via EDI. Customer demand was high, shipments were up. They began to notice that more and more invoices were not paid, and accounts receivable was growing. Discussions with customers revealed that the invoices were not being paid because they contained EDI syntax errors and needed to be corrected.  The EDI group within the organization was contacted, and at first they denied that a problem existed at all.  After going back and forth between the customers and their own EDI group, management confirmed that there were issues with EDI which continued to affect new invoices.  The customers refused to switch to manual paper invoices and the company found that correcting EDI data manually was a very time-consuming process, highly prone to errors.  In addition to the unpaid invoices, the penalties for errors continued to grow, damaging realized revenue even more. AR was over 6 months overdue on many invoices.

Management finally tried looking for external help but it was too late, despite a healthy orders book, they were forced to close the business due to insufficient cash flow.

Story 2: The Costly Discovery

A record company was happily filling orders for their CDs to be sent to a major retail store chain. The company was happy to have such a high-volume customer. The AR Department found that a number of invoices were not being paid, with most in the six-month-overdue category.

Investigation showed that the invoices were being rejected by the customer and many EDI notifications had been sent to the company.  The messages were not being processed by the record company’s system with the same scrutiny as other transactions so no one in the EDI group noticed.

After a great many hours and many meetings most of the six million dollars overdue was recovered. This was an accidental interest-free loan for their customers, which cost over $150,000 in lost interest.  The greater loss was the need to negotiate at a disadvantage with a large customer because of the record company’s EDI system shortfalls. Their service image is still under repair.

Story 3: Outsmarting Yourself – The EDI Game

A mid-sized manufacturing company felt they had finally ‘beaten’ EDI problems by circumventing their own technology.  They intensively trained Order Entry personnel so that each employee could understand, and be able to read, raw EDI data and compare it to data imported into their SAP system.

Despite the considerable time and labor costs of entering orders, management felt that the approach could considerably reduce overall costs.  They were very proud of the work they had accomplished, and to their credit the company performed better than many of their competitors in EDI data flow with their customers.

Unfortunately, a close analysis revealed that they were not without problems.  In one instance, they received a blanket purchase order for a considerable amount of goods from a large retail chain.  The order came in November with the first delivery due in May and was large enough that it required complex planning and additional investment to complete.

On the day when the first trucks were due to arrive, many of the other orders had been rescheduled or moved to a later time. The warehouse floor was full of prepackaged goods for quick loading. But no truck came. The trucking company, when called, explained that no truck had been requested by their customer.

After a few calls to the retailer, it turned out the order had been cancelled just prior to midnight the day before via an electronic message. This message was automatically accepted by the EDI system. The employees who manually review all EDI transactions had ignored it. Because the warehouse had un-knowingly accepted the cancellation request, the customer they had no responsibility for the order.

Story 4: Order Cancellation — What You Don’t Know Will Hurt You

While conducting a review of EDI-process performance for a distribution company, we noticed a large number of ‘lost’ orders.  It is common practice for customers to put a deadline for fulfilling an order. Missed shipment or acknowledgement results in the order being considered cancelled. Almost 30% of all orders were cancelled this way. Senior management was aware that some orders were being cancelled but did not realize the magnitude of the percentage.  Adding insult to injury, the customer often verbally requested increased quantities which were not reflected on the invoices.

Story 5: Who Do You Believe?

A number of senior managers for medium-sized companies all had a similar concern. They did not know whom to trust, their internal staff or their customer. Prior to negotiation meetings with the customer, management would arm themselves with facts and arguments related to EDI. However, from the customer’s perspective, the picture was quite different. And the customer’s word was backed up by comprehensive reporting from the customer’s systems.

Story 6: The Penalty Box

While conducting a review of an EDI department for a mid-size manufacturer we uncovered problems with the EDI invoices. Invoices being produced by their PeopleSoft system failed acceptance by their customer’s EDI process. Each time, a penalty of 50 to 80 dollars was applied and the invoice was rejected. The EDI staff noticed the problem and tried correcting the issue by re-sending the invoice. But they did not increase the control number (counter). The invoice is rejected again and another penalty is applied. After an unsuccessful third attempt with a third penalty charge, the EDI group gives up and the invoice is not paid. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated event.