Internet EDI and partnerships ensure quick ROI

Thomas Bruggner, Seeburger Inc.

Utility industry deregulation coupled with the new markets from the unbundling of services has created competition where none existed. In the general business market the rapid growth of electronic commerce has led companies to investigate the Internet as a way to gain a tactical advantage in the new economy. Utility companies that choose the Internet to transmit business-to-business data will succeed in their goals of efficiency, cost effectiveness, and fulfillment of service requirements. The right outside partnership can ensure speedy return-on-system-investment and a very competitive business footing for the future.

Even as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was mandating an open supply chain via electronic data interchange (EDI) in 1993, the Internet was beginning to change the face of business-to-business data transactions. The mandate for open communications required power providers and interstate pipelines to open supply chains with the EDI exchange standard, designed to eliminate the hassles of paper-based transactions by standardizing data formats, speeding transfers, automating logging and authentication and generally simplifying exchanges. EDI would be conducted via a value added network (VAN) that was proprietary and expensive to set up and use. The problem was timing.

EDI at home on the Internet

EDI as a reliable standard is viable and more so without the VAN. Internet EDI offers a low-cost, stable and secure communication forum that provides a timely and full return on investment. The Gas Industry Standards Board (GISB) developed the Internet EDI transaction standard and electronic delivery mechanism (EDM) that has become a preferred standard for data transactions by utility companies and is purported to be the most widely deployed EDI standard in the United States. Internet transactions are sent securely, from server to server, incorporating the principles of privacy, authentication, integrity, and non-repudiation (PAIN). With a relatively small effort, a company interested in Internet options can find a solution that is more reliable, as secure, and much cheaper than a VAN.

“Why pay upwards of $15,000 per month in VAN charges? Eliminate them by switching to a combination of a GISB certified EDM, backend data mapping software, and utilizing the Internet to transmit documents. The return on investment (ROI) is often less than six months, and these companies find that the privacy, authentication and security of the Internet is equal to or better than that offered by the VANs,” according to Jim Buccigross, vice president, energy practice for Group 8760 and chairman of the GISB executive committee.

Lower product prices, lower procurement costs, real-time pricing, shorter order fulfillment and transaction convenience will ultimately cause the utility industry to move to e-procurement. The only question is: who will be prepared to take advantage of the coming change and who will be left behind?

Vendor partnerships

The companies who will remain strong in the new economy will be those that take full advantage of the Internet and its enabling technologies. Companies looking to rise above the competition will seek partnerships with vendors who offer solutions that streamline everyday business-to-business processes from an e-commerce-enabled Web front-end to order entry, straight through to backend integration with existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Companies such as Group 8760 and Seeburger have entered into just such a partnership to deliver timely Internet EDI communications and business integration solutions for the utility industry.

Solutions include an award-winning, any-to-any, and drag-and-drop file format data mapping tool to meet utility industry requirements. Additionally, Seeburger provides certified and seamless integration capabilities into commercial ERP systems and homegrown systems using state-of-the-art technology while supporting current platform-independent software trends like XML.

Transporting EDI files for data access is handled by Group 8760’s GISBAgent software, enabling trading partners to more efficiently exchange goods and services in real-time. After transmission, data access becomes a simple database, logging, messaging, or verification function. Data communication security encryption, validation, and timestamp control among network trading partners are built-in.

Data access, data security, data mapping combined with an ability to integrate business-to-business data exchanges into a company’s back office ERP system results in a complete, seamless and easily managed data exchange and integration solution for utilities seeking a streamlined business advantage.

Bruggner has international experience working to implement e-commerce solutions for large and small B2B information technology operations. As president of North American operations for Seeburger Inc., he is also charged with managing the expansion of Seeburger’s EAI (enterprise application integration) solutions in the North American marketplace.

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