APIs: EDI for the Modern Supply Chain

Written by Brian Blood, from our partner, Graceblood, LLC

APIs for Dummies

 There is a lot of information out there about APIs and web services.  But in many cases, you need a Master’s in Computer Science to understand what it is and what it does.  This article will be for the rest of us.  So, what is an API anyway?  And do I need this in my life?  API (Application Programming Interface) is just a technical term for small, purpose-built pieces of programming code that allow different applications to “talk” to one another.  Sometimes these applications are within your intranet, and other times they may be across the globe, in the cloud, or within your customer’s or vendor’s organization.  Regardless of where the applications “live,” an API allows you to do things like validate data prior to inserting orders into a system, or allowing your customers to check available inventory before they place an order with you, or even connect to a 3rd party tax or freight company to calculate tax or freight, respectively.  The beauty of an API lies in its simplicity – it’s typically built to do one thing, thus the risks of issues related to the programming code are essentially eliminated.  And in our just-in-time world, having instantaneous data exchange, made possible by APIs, is becoming not only preferred, but necessary.

Modern EDI

EDI, meet API, your new best friend.  An enormous amount of what used to be EDI-to-EDI transaction flows are being replaced with “Modern-EDI” so to speak: EDI-to-API or API-to-EDI or API-to-API, and they’re being augmented with real-time functionalities that heretofore were not even a passing idea when we were limited to traditional EDI-to-EDI batch flows.  Unfortunately, our love affair with EDI API integration is not devoid of an occasional therapy session necessitated by a lack of standards.  Yes, there are REST and SOAP APIs and standards exist surrounding those methods, however, there are no standards for example, for putting a purchase order into your supplier’s ERP.  One ERP may have one set of data required by its purchase order, but another ERP may have a quite different set of data required in a purchase order.  Furthermore, an organization’s unique business rules can also affect how APIs are configured.  For example, whenever we do NetSuite integrations using API connectors on our Managed Services platform, we approach each project individually because no two are exactly the same.  All is not lost though, and therapy does work.  Our friends at X12 (https://x12.org/) who have stood loyal to EDI since the dawn of time have seen the need to develop standards, and thus efforts are being made toward publishing standards for APIs for the future through their committee, aptly named B2X.  The committee is comprised of some highly intelligent and creative individuals who have decades of experience with EDI, so the future for API standards looks bright.

All the Cool Kids Have APIs

 For now, the lack of standards is merely an annoyance, and it doesn’t deter companies and industries from developing more and more of them as the need arises.  While we began life here as strictly an EDI provider, we find ourselves implementing solutions today that are modern-EDI (see above), or better yet, not related to EDI at all but are purpose-built integrations which use APIs at their core.  Sharing data between applications not only creates huge efficiency gains, it’s becoming almost imperative.  Old software applications (ERP, CRM, etc.) that have no API or web-services capabilities are being replaced at an incredible pace, not only because they’ve outlived their usefulness, but because it’s mission critical to share the data within those types of systems with many other systems along the supply chain.  Organizations that historically had disparate platforms that operated in silos are now exploiting the integration possibilities because of this flexible technology.  CRMs and ERPs are now talking to shipping platforms and vice versa.  Because of this, most of the ERPs that we commonly integrate with are API friendly.  APIs are here to stay, so embrace them.

Written by:

Brian Blood

Managing Partner for GraceBlood LLC.


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