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Modernizing Your EDI Implementation with Altova MapForce

, 3 Jun 2008 CPOL 15.5K 9
Altova’s data mapping tool, MapForce, provides strong support for the conversion and transformation of EDI formats, enabling businesses to reconcile their legacy formats with newer documentation, storage, and system requirements, while still adhering to conventional e-commerce transaction ordinances

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Introduction

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is a set of standards for structured e-commerce data and information exchange. EDI systems are designed to allow trading partners to exchange common documents such as purchase orders, invoices, insurance claims, etc., more efficiently by enabling computers to correctly interpret and process this data.

As both a concept and a technology, EDI has been in use, in one form or another, since the late 1960s, when many large companies were beginning to adopt in-house computer systems and networks to streamline their business functions. Unfortunately, while EDI has undoubtedly benefited from a broad array of recent technological advancements, this long and respectable history has a multitude of drawbacks, which can have a profound effect on early adopters attempting to integrate legacy systems with newer investments.

Altova’s data mapping tool, MapForce, provides strong support for the conversion and transformation of EDI formats, enabling businesses to reconcile their legacy formats with newer documentation, storage, and system requirements, while still adhering to conventional e-commerce transaction ordinances.

Legacy EDI

EDI was born out of a need to standardize inter-company transaction messages so that they could be readily understood by disparate computer systems, regardless of proprietary data storage format(s). This highly automated transaction methodology has revolutionized e-commerce by all but eliminating human interaction in a long list of mundane tasks. However, as EDI has developed and matured, many new and interdependent technologies have come and gone, leaving companies scrambling to maintain the integrity of their EDI infrastructure against all odds.

Of course, like any business standard, EDI was intended to cut costs and increase overall efficiency in enterprise communications – but in many cases initial implementation and maintenance costs have proven painful, especially when these antiquated processes and technologies are put alongside more modern systems.

As a message transmission paradigm, EDI is source format and system agnostic, and requires translation and purposing for delivery to proprietary systems at its final destination. The reality that EDI precedes such prevalent integrated business technologies as ERP, CRM, many database formats, and many other supply chain enabling technologies, makes data transformation an important component of any EDI implementation.

EDI Systems

A typical legacy EDI system is comprised of the following key components:

  • A conversion utility for importing and exporting EDI transmissions to and from internal databases
  • A translation component for transforming raw EDI data into and out of intermediate formats
  • Communications software for orchestrating message transmissions via a value-added network (VAN)
  • A reporting system for monitoring and tracking EDI traffic

Of course, modern implementations have been able to add efficiency to the legacy model and decrease costs by, for example, exchanging data in real-time via Web services and thus removing costly VANs from the architecture altogether. In addition, other Internet technologies such as secure extranets (VPNs) have led the way to seamless business-to-business communication, while distributed computing models have also lent a hand to less rigid, lower cost EDI implementations.

Modern EDI systems promote modularity and the flexibility to grow with company requirements. Integrating scalable EDI infrastructure with other business process automation functionality leads to significant cost savings and reduces the occurrence of crippling transaction and communication errors.

Data Integration

At the core of any EDI system are conversion and translation modules that import and export data and convert EDI formats to proprietary formats for internal storage, transmission, and/or further processing. Because of the complexity of EDI message dialects, companies often find a need to outsource this important task to expensive consultants who have a familiarity with EDI syntax. More often than not, transformation code is delivered with a significant amount of errors, which then need to be addressed at extra cost to avoid any issues at run-time.

EDI’s hierarchical structure makes conversion to modern data formats like XML, databases, Web services, etc., seem conceptually like a simple task, but the vast amount of segments within the EDI syntax -- combined with additional processing requirements and the very common need to generate code for recurrent transformations -- oftentimes makes the mapping process a logistical nightmare.

MapForce

Altova MapForce offers a low-cost and versatile data mapping solution with full support for both ANSI X12 and EDIFACT EDI message standards, giving businesses the opportunity to take control of their legacy EDI assets and the freedom to integrate this data in-house.

MapForce supports bi-directional, multi-source and/or target mapping for XML, databases, flat files, EDI, Excel 2007 (OOXML), and/or Web services. Its extensive built-in EDI libraries enable users to seamlessly integrate legacy formats and migrate data on-the-fly.

image001.jpg

MapForce’s intuitive visual interface enables users to define and instantly execute data transformations by simply dragging connecting lines between associated elements and components.

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Advanced data processing functions including transformation input parameters, filters and conditions, as well as a built-in function library and the ability to create and save custom functions, makes for an unlimited number of possible transformation outcomes.

image003.jpg

MapForce has the ability to generate royalty-free Java, C++, or C# class files, resulting in full-featured transformation applications that can be executed directly, customized further, and/or run within another integrated application. This is an enormous productivity enhancer in EDI implementations, where process automation is a core goal.

In addition, because it's auto-generated according to industry standards and globally defined parameters, using MapForce ensures that transformation code is written consistently across entire data integration projects. This approach to data integration ensures compatibility and interoperability across different platforms, servers, programming languages, and database environments, removing the limitations imposed by proprietary integration solutions and project-specific engineering teams and/or outsourced technical consultants. Code consistency helps reduce and isolate software bugs while improving overall readability and reusability.

MapForce’s advanced code generation capabilities make it a more effective and cost-conscious option than the often cumbersome conversion utilities in legacy EDI systems.

image004.jpg

MapForce is a highly adaptable data mapping and transformation tool that can work in tandem with a broad range of proprietary systems. Integration with Visual Studio and Eclipse, the ability to run command line operations, and other advanced features make MapForce an ideal automation tool for modernizing legacy EDI systems.

Conclusion

The necessity and success of supply chain standardization is proven not only by EDI’s long history and the powerhouse companies (including Home Depot® and Wal Mart®) that now require inter-company transactions to be structured in EDI formats, but also the enormous number of businesses that have capitalized on this technology. High-priced consultancies and integrated software packages have traditionally been a thorn in the side of EDI adopters, forcing them to relinquish control over their data processes without much visible benefit.

With its sophisticated graphical design interface, support for prevalent data formats, and advanced generation of royalty-free code, MapForce is a low-cost and efficient enabler for companies looking to regain control over their data assets and attack their legacy EDI infrastructure head-on. MapForce allows companies to take full advantage of their investment in EDI with a flexible solution that will be able to manage data integration challenges for years to come.

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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Liz Andrews
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