Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is as true today as it was when Franklin made the statement. Many use the quote when referring to health, but Franklin actually was addressing fire safety. At the time, Philadelphia had a very poor record for fire prevention.
Franklin’s concept resulted in the creation of the Union Fire Company. The members met regularly to talk about fire prevention as well as fire-fighting methods. This organized prevention transformed Philadelphia into one of the safest cities in America.
We could all benefit from taking a step back and considering this in the context of how we integrate with our trading partners. In our highly automated world, most communications flow between businesses without human intervention. Unless we’re in this business, we hardly know it happens.
This automated flow is known as Electronic Data Interchange or EDI. It is an enormous part of Business-to-Business or B2B commerce. It is remarkably efficient when it works well.
The total cost of ownership of this technology, however, is greatly affected by the challenges of troubleshooting issues. Partners send each other bad or missing data which ultimately ends up wreaking havoc in backend applications.
There are revenue implications, too. Passing incomplete or bad data to a trading partner introduces either delays in order processing or in payments receipt. This can break the business.
In an attempt to solve this problem, EDI ‘translators’ are created to catch basic mistakes but still miss a significant number of errors. Organizations write custom code to try to catch the errors but systems are complex, hard and costly to change, and custom code still only catches certain errors. It adds up to an enormous problem.
All of these efforts amount to little to no prevention.
Stop Fighting Fires
The real challenge is visibility. Knowing what and where problems occur is critical to prevention. Visibility means identifying lowest performing partners and carefully monitoring spikes and dips in transaction volumes. It means knowing what is really happening.
Good systems have a way to build custom rules that identify specific problems before data moves downstream and causes bigger problems. The creation of these rules needs to be easy and flexible to allow adding new rules or modifying existing rules as environments evolve.
Capturing the error is not enough. Automating the correction of the problem or at least simplifying the correction process is key. In many situations, getting the business partner involved is required, especially if they’re the ones that submitted the problem data.
Partners ultimately need a way to notify each other of the exact cause of issues. There needs to be a mutually useful way to see and address issues that will lessen the cost of staff involvement. When staff involvement can’t be eliminated, making the problem identification and remediation process very intuitive is an enormous time and cost saver.
Data integration between businesses is essential to both growth and bottom-line performance, but it is challenging, complex and costly to implement and maintain unless partners take the proper preventative steps. We need to take the lead from Ben.