Headline EDI seeks plug and play

Leaving behind long-held assumptions about the technology’s demise, EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) is undergoing a resurgence as vendors manoeuvre to offer enterprises hybrid EDI and Web services infrastructures.

With most companies unwilling to abandon EDI investments, traditional VAN (Value Added Network) operators such as GE Global eXchange Services and Sterling Commerce are moving to incorporate support for XML and Web services, introducing newer EAI technology to complement existing hard-coded EDI links.

Inovis, an Atlanta-based company born from Peregrine Systems Inc.’s acquisitions of Extricity Software Inc. and Harbinger Corp., is also on the EDI trail, launching this month as a single-source community-enablement company that will deliver business process management, data transformation (EDI/XML), network connectivity, Web services, and other value-added services.

With continued strain on IT budgets, more enterprises are looking for this hybrid approach to leverage investments in legacy data, observers say.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart is one such company, tapping Dallas-based iSoft Commerce Suite Software to provide Internet EDI.

The retail giant has thrown further weight behind Internet EDI with a requirement that its suppliers use the AS2 (Applicability Statement 2) security protocol when transmitting data electronically. AS2 uses digital certificates to encrypt documents.

“They are going to require all their suppliers to use the Internet to communicate with them,” said Ken Vollmer, an analyst at Giga Information Group in Cambridge, Mass. The suite is designed to provide trading community management, public key infrastructure technology, and IP-based secure communications infrastructure, he said.

Wal-Mart did not respond to an interview request.

“There’s a huge landgrab going on in Internet EDI right now,” said Christian Putnam, founder and CEO of iSoft in Dallas. “The value proposition for Internet EDI really becomes real when it scales…and when the hubs that were traditionally using a VAN convert to a software-based system. If you’re a Wal-Mart…you’re going to have to have redundancy and scalability.”

“EDI is certainly not dead. It has been reborn because the XML revolution did not take effect [as a replacement for traditional EDI],” said Dave Williams, Inovis president and CEO.

“The trading community has various needs. Some suppliers or distributors will use EDI while some will use XML. More sophisticated suppliers and distributors will use process management applications. Those enterprises that are continuing to try to expand their trading communities have to deal with that,” Williams said. Leveraging XML-based technologies will help enterprises tackle specific business problems, such as boosting supply-chain visibility and tracking purchase orders throughout the chain, he added.

For its part, Inovis is focused on taking a business process to market via its enablement offerings. In addition, it can add the business process management technology to let companies communicate business processes electronically. Inovis is also developing new business community enablement offerings based on J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) and Web services.

Companies such as webMethods and Sterling Commerce also have focused on this hybrid method of support, which webMethods terms “collaborative commerce.”

Meanwhile, Fairfax, Va.-based webMethods in August announced two new solutions designed to allow companies to upgrade and expand current EDI-based operations by leveraging the webMethods platform to gain an end-to-end enterprise integration for automated business processes.

“EDI has critical mass,” said Giga Information Group’s Vollmer.

“What’s missing is the code behind the scenes that would allow you to incorporate processes that use EDI transactions with your business processes,” Vollmer said.