Outdated technology is a silent killer. According to a 2014 study by Constellation Research, since 2000, 52% of Fortune 500 companies have either gone bankrupt, been acquired, or ceased to exist primarily because of their inability to keep pace with digital transformation. Similarly, according to a 2013 Microsoft study, over 90% of consumers surveyed said that they would consider taking their business elsewhere rather than work with a company that uses outdated technology. In this context, the continued use and adoption of B2B Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) – with its antiquated batch processing approach among others – is a bit of an anomaly.

EDI works a lot like fax machines by transmitting data over timers. It basically stores information and then forwards it in batches without any confirmation. This delay pushes up freight cost. Organizations lack end-to-end visibility, and take decisions based on outdated data. Moreover, they are not able to leverage cutting edge technology such as Big Data.

In this scenario making the move to APIs is a no-brainer. APIs enable real time B2B interfaces which can be used with EDI even though it is batch based. APIs can simplify B2B boarding which has always been a frustration in EDI. APIs also open the doors for new experiences through mobile, social and IoT. that case, what exactly is holding back businesses to take the leap? Benoit Lheureux, calls the phenomenon the ‘B2B Tower of Babel’ in his blog on Gartner. He explains: “If you’re Wal-Mart (“do you want to sell your products in my stores?”) or Amazon (“do you want to sell your products on my site?”), you definitely call the shots. Whether they issue an EDI implementation guide or an API specification, such channel masters require suppliers and vendors that wish to do business with them to utilize their approach to B2B.”

So, even though EDI is outdated, it has age on its side. Having been invented in the 1940s, it has been widely adopted around the globe and even works in areas where consistent internet connectivity is an issue. In brief, the general sentiment toward EDI is something like, ‘Why fix it when it ain’t broke?’. However, even if EDI isn’t ‘breaking’ your business, it certainly has a cost associated with it. So take gradual steps toward optimizing your B2B data integration technology by modernizing it. Start with these three options:

Option 1: Mixing APIs with EDI

Take small steps forward by using APIs to complement EDI. An EDI platform that is embellished with APIs can share data with external applications. This is done through REST APIs that expose EDI platform services and offer EDI as a service. Such a platform not only offers visibility into various business processes, but allows you to securely exchange business documents.

PwC, in its 2012 technology forecast (see below), explained that RESTful APIs as an architectural and programming model, sharply reduce the cost and complexity of integrations. In addition, they deliver a scalable approach for both internal and external use.

This setup also offers heightened security by enabling you to manage all business partners centrally. You can apply common security policies to all data flows irrespective of protocols or channels. By developing a single repository of all APIs and EDI partners, you can even simplify the on-boarding process.

All you need to do is to apply a modern connectivity framework to legacy technologies. For instance, if you want to develop a mobile app, you need to apply a modern API layer. Then extract and share the data through this layer and over traditional EDI protocols to deliver to your partners. This way, you are able to multiply real time business transactions while retaining the robust structure and security provided by EDI. You could even choose an interoperable EDI and API gateway. Such a gateway would apply a combination of EDI and APIs to a business transaction. You get to choose how to go about it. Getting the right IT partner can help you balance this kind of gradual evolution.

As Ross Mason describes in an article in TechCrunch: “What’s great about APIs is they don’t require an understanding of how the system on the other side actually functions, allowing business users to self-serve. As a result, APIs are igniting a cultural movement that shifts IT away from delivering narrow projects to the business, and toward delivering reusable capabilities that enable business users to deliver their own projects in their own way.” This, I believe, builds a strong case for modernizing your EDI technology with APIs.

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Option 2: Upgrade to modern EDI standards

A lot of the bad rep that EDI is currently receiving is to do with the EDI that was fashioned decades ago. Check your EDI technology to see if it fits the description. If yes, you can simply modernize it to achieve benefits such as flexibility and heightened productivity. For instance, modern EDI can deal with standard documents as well as XML, spreadsheet, and flat file documents. Unlike traditional EDI that offered connections only between external partners and internal resources, modern EDI offers connection between partners, data, applications, and cloud services. Also, unlike traditional EDI where inbound and outbound processes are inflexible, modern EDI offers end to end combinations of internal business processes and partner facing processes.

Resource integration used to be tricky, with coding being mandatory for integrations with applications and data. But in modern EDI, integration with internal and external endpoints can be done relatively faster and without coding. Finally, in classic EDI visibility used to be an issue, resulting in a reactive management approach. But in modern EDI, the management approach is a lot more mature and is achieved through self serve reporting, alerts, and dashboards.

Option 3: Get a partner to implement and track best practices

First off, accept that EDI is always going to require a fair amount of maintenance and support. Since EDI/B2B data is going to be coming from vendors or partners, you will need to maintain the data quality and support new transactions/vendors. Managing this in-house consistently can be a challenge. Therefore, consider working with an IT service provider; preferably one that provides ITIL based application support and delivery. Such a partner would optimize performance, reduce support costs, and free up strategic resources to pursue your core business. It would also provide proactive instead of reactive support and offer flexible capacity model. In addition, the right partner would:

  • Make the EDI technology scalable. It should be able to keep pace with the growth of your business by operating in a multi server and multi instance environment.
  • Ensure that your EDI technology supports multiple standards; the more the merrier.
  • Ensure that your EDI technology integrates with multiple document types so that the need for manual data entry is nullified.
  • Automate the EDI technology at least to the extent that you receive alerts and updates if there is a transaction issue that has not been resolved.


The ground reality is that B2B EDI is here to stay for a long time. However, despite its drawbacks, you can make it work for your business by modernizing it. Remember to allocate sufficient time to study the existing system and build the inventory before making any transition. You would also have to carefully develop object templates and your reuse strategy. You could minimize the risk associated with the technology upgrade by making the change in phases. If all this sounds a bit too complicated, don’t hesitate to leverage the services of a vendor who would make their experience in this domain work for you and accelerate your time to production.

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Keep Moving Forward with Aptude

Aptude is your own personal IT professional services firm. We provide our clients with first class resources in a continuous, cost-containment fashion.

Our support services will free up your senior IT staff from the overwhelming burden of day-to-day maintenance issues. Now they’ll have time to launch those new projects and applications you’ve been waiting for. Simply put, we can free up your resources and contain your costs. Let’s have a quick chat to discuss our exclusive services.