Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is the exchange of data between computer systems as transactions to achieve a specific purpose. Transactions are often simple text files using tightly standardized formats. In some cases the exchange of data is entirely virtual.
Traditionally, EDI has referred to transactions in ANSI X12 format. But today EDI has evolved to include many routine events, like your dentist inserting an appointment into your calendar by sending you a file, to which an acknowledgement is returned to their scheduling system confirming the appointment. It is likely that you might have pushed a button or two to make that happen, but EDI often happens in an entirely automated fashion. In the defense world, there are Vendor Managed Inventory systems which allow the Government to automatically look into the managed inventory of the contractor entirely automatically.
X12 is a form of EDI that has been around for more than thirty-five years. Driven by American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards for its format and method of interchange, and industry committees that have defined more than 300 transactions for nearly every conceivable exchange of business data between computer systems. Specific uses of a given standard transaction are defined by implementation conventions that precisely define the transaction in the most robust fashion feasible in conjunction with a standard data dictionary. Specific usages of an X12 transaction, WAWF’s use of X12-856, are referred to as implementation conventions.
Use of such standardized transactions and systems allows for the automatic routing of transactions from one system to another through the use of Value-Added Networks (VANs) and increases the likelihood of the transaction being understood, while also provided a means of indicating success or failure of that.
Wide Area Workflow (WAWF) makes great advantage of EDI, allowing contractors to submit Receiving Reports, Invoices and RFID updates electronically, without the need for a user to enter the data manually into a web site. Which is good because doing so is slow, tedious and a common source of errors. And since the user is likely transferring data from one computer system to another, it is better to let the computers talk to each other. EDI formalizes that process through the use of standardized transactions, such as X12.
There are four forms of Electronic Data Interchange principally used in the defense supply chain:
- X12 (not an acronym) is used for WAWF automation, DIBBS purchase orders, VMI transfers, and many other defense business system transactions.
- XML (Extendable Markup Language) is a standardized language, more flexible in implementation than X12. It used by contractors to update the IUID Registry and by the Registry to respond to those updates, and to requests for IUID item status during Government-Furnished Property (GFP) custody requests and prior to IUID part marking.
- UDF (User-Defined Format) is one defined entirely by the system that controls them, such as a CSV file. The WAWF SFTP and IUID Registry update transactions are examples of UDF.
- SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) is a highly advanced messaging web services protocol that uses XML at its root. It is used by VSM in addition to JSON.
It is possible to conduct business with the DoD without ever using EDI. However, any kind of automation will rely on one form of EDI or another. Robust defense supply chain automation systems, such as MIL-Comply, use all of them.