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iTECH: EDI Thrives Amid Newer Services

Electronic Data Interchange Keeps Pace With Evolving Technologies

By Jonathan S. Reiskin, Associate News Editor

This article appears in the June/July 2012 issue of iTECH, published in the June 11 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

One of the core business-to-business communications tools in trucking — electronic data interchange — is undergoing a period of expansion, even as its core functionality remains largely unchanged.

EDI, which fleets and shippers rely on to transmit large volumes of data, traces its core principles to just after World War II, but its role in the exchange of information for the trucking industry is as vital as ever, fleet executives said.

“EDI is very important to us,” said Don Smith, information technology director for the enterprise services unit of Con-way Inc. “Many of our largest customers want to interact with us electronically, and the vast majority of our customers prefer to use it, especially the largest ones.”

Con-way, Ann Arbor, Mich., has been using EDI almost since its founding in 1983 and currently has an EDI staff of 15, said Smith, who is also the departing chairman of American Trucking Associations’ Information Technology & Logistics Council. Con-way ranks No. 3 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada.

In trucking, fleets typically use EDI for basic load management and invoicing messages. Industries including health care, finance, insurance and retailing — as well various levels of government — also use it.

The format for data entry and presentation would be recognizable to EDI users from more than 20 years ago, but the technology that supports and moves the data has changed and improved. Value-added networks of computers — which, according to searchnetworking.techtarget.com, are private network providers that are hired by a company to facilitate EDI or provide other network services — have long played a role in EDI. But they have been succeeded in many cases by Internet transmission via FTP (file transfer protocol) sites and AS2 software, said technology managers interviewed for this story.

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