EAI extends EDI systems

Attempting to capitalize on users’ desire to trim EDI network charges and exploit emerging open standards, EAI vendors are touting their tools as a way to extend or replace existing EDI infrastructures.

EAI middleware targeted at EDI infrastructures, VANs (value added networks) and EDI translators, promises to liberate the rigid, batch orientation of conventional EDI to fuel real-time transactions over the Internet that can be tied into back-end systems and processes.

“EDI VANs are not those providing robust integration capabilities, such as business process management or application integration,” said Rick Clements, director of product marketing at EAI stalwart SeeBeyond Technology Corp. in Monrovia, Calif.

“One benefit of using EAI to extend EDI is getting a seamless infrastructure.”

SeeBeyond is just one vendor amid many, including Tibco, webMethods, IBM, Microsoft, Vitria, and Iona, that have been beating the EDI drum, recognizing that the time-tested document exchange solution can be updated and improved.

Vendor support is welcome news for companies that have invested heavily in EDI infrastructures and are looking to leverage the investment while also taking advantage of newer open standards such as AS2 for securing EDI over HTTPS.

“The application integration vendors have finally figured out that EDI isn’t going anywhere, so they’re trying to find ways to support it,” said Ken Vollmer, an industry analyst at Giga Information Group in Cambridge, Mass.

However, Vollmer said that in the case of EDI, one size does not fit all. Some smaller companies with a limited number of partners and EDI transactions are better off sticking with their VAN provider — and their monthly, usage-based charges — while behemoths, such as retailer Wal-Mart, that have myriad suppliers and partners should go the Internet route.

Meanwhile, if business process automation is a priority, EAI vendors do have tools to incorporate EDI traffic into the overall flow of a process that touches many internal systems before running through an EDI translator for delivery to a partner, said Jon Derome, industry analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston.

But while EAI tools can provide the same quality of service offered by a VAN — such as data transformation, secure messaging, and nonrepudiation — they also require in-house IT specialists and support staff able to manage and maintain both the integration platform and EDI infrastructure.

“When an organization decides to replace a VAN solution, they are making a commitment to in-source the functionality that they previously received from the VAN,” Vollmer said.

An IT spending forecast unveiled last week by analyst company AMR Research in Boston, found that enterprises are undergoing a flip-flop of sorts, with a greater percentage of users beginning to opt for Internet-based EDI. However, the total percentage of EDI implementations is not decreasing, according to Kimberly Knickle, research director at AMR.

That trend has allowed companies such as Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Cyclone Commerce, which connects external trading partners via EDI, to add 30 of the 40 largest suppliers of consumer packaged goods to its installed base, said Jeff Kukowsi, Cyclone’s vice president of marketing.