What is EDI Document Mapping and Why Is It Important?
Automating commerce requires cross-connecting electronic versions of ordinary business documents such as POs, Invoices, and Shipping Notices between the buyers’ and supplier’s ERP systems. “Mapping” refers to the setup of each required field in each document so that they correspond correctly on both sides of the transactions.
Uniqueness is the crux of why mapping is required for every EDI document used in every trading relationship. That’s because EDI “standards” apply only the technical protocol. The uses within that protocol are completely open, and retailers exhibit terrifying creativity in defining their own specifications. Retailers are notorious for changing specifications—Amazon in particular—as their business needs evolve. You hear plenty of news about “omnichannel” sales—such as brick‐and‐mortar retailers using stores as e‐commerce distribution centers, or e‐commerce websites implementing new third‐party logistics solutions. Every time you hear something like that, think “New EDI maps and revisions to old ones.” Mapping is never once‐and‐done; it requires vigilance and maintenance.
What Needs To Be Mapped?
Mapping tasks are similar across any industry, but documents and fields can differ. Grocery purchase orders are completely different EDI documents from those used to buy other items, for example. Lot tracking and serialization may be critical for some businesses and not at all important to others. The ability to handle data in maps that may not be accommodated in a particular ERP may be important.
Two orders received by the same supplier for the same items may look completely different. One case ordered by Target and three packs ordered by Walmart may both equal 12 units to the supplier, for instance. Each/pack/case/pallet amounts maintained by the customer must ultimately translate to the units used by the supplier. Distribution center numbers, ship‐to address codes, SKUs, Buyer IDs, or “Mark For” descriptions are just a few of the potential cross-references that must be maintained.
Where Mapping Happens
The buyer-facing side of the map must be set up to accommodate all the fields that particular customer uses. Typically, that map is done by the EDI software vendor or service provider. A definition of the superset of fields used by a customer is what some EDI vendors refer to as the “universal map.”
There are two sides to a map, however. Connecting the other end to the supplier’s ERP is where all the complexities occur. All of the mapping parameters must be dealt with through some combination of EDI cloud services, application software, mapping software modules, ERP tables, or custom programming. Since handling user-specific logic is common, standardized capabilities that maintain version‐to‐version ERP compatibility are best.
Ability to execute on mapping is often the make‐or‐break factor in EDI implementations. Ability to do custom mapping quickly at reasonable cost is often a key decision criterion when suppliers choose EDI solutions. The fewer the parties involved, the better, to avoid finger-pointing when something is broken and you really need an answer.
Above all, mapping requires attention to detail during setup and constant vigilance thereafter.
Few mid‐sized companies have the wherewithal to do mapping in‐house. It gets increasingly difficult based on the pace of changes in B2B and B2C omnichannel commerce. Mapping—like physical plumbing and wiring—is something best done by professionals.
Written by RedTail Solutions