One of the main threats to continued EDI adoption and the business benefits of EDI was the rise of APIs (application programming interface, which were developed to support system connectivity and program interaction in the cloud era. While API-led vendors promised a brave new world of cloud and B2B integration, an EDI trading partner connection and an API are not the same things.
One of the major reasons APIs fall short is that they are more static. APIs tend to be built to spec from the beginning, and changes to communication between two organizations are not easily accepted without breaking functionality. Thus, partner provisioning and change management options are burdensome because modifying an API requires further development.
With trading partners, however, the interactions are more dynamic. Security certificates expire, IP addresses change, and SLAs are modified to adjust to business needs and market expectations. These trading partner interactions are part of the standard integration offerings from B2B-led vendors but are often an afterthought in API-led integration platforms.
Therefore, these API-led varieties remain insufficient for large trading partner networks that require lots of onboarding, scale, governance, and community management. And that’s where enterprises fall short on the broader benefits of EDI.
The reason APIs have become so buzzworthy is because they are architected to keep up with the ever-increasing speed of markets and varying interface requirements in business today. But here are a few reasons APIs have consistently come up short in delivering EDI and B2B integration capabilities:
- Little legacy support: APIs are less compatible with legacy technology and systems than other B2B technologies, making it extremely unlikely that businesses can exclusively communicate using APIs.
- Unstandardized: Few APIs work right out of the box and require tweaks to the code, which can slow partner onboarding processes.
- Code-heavy: APIs require development, and many companies don’t have the developers on staff or the money to pay consultants to make a change.
- Reusability: Organizations often spend lots of money to build a single API, but that investment often doesn’t carry over to another partner API, which may require different specs.
- Scalability: With so much custom development, an API-led infrastructure is difficult to maintain and scale for B2B processes with large volumes of trading partners.
- Security: Every new API exposes another attack surface that can leave your organization vulnerable.
EDI is Here to Stay – And So are APIs
APIs give developers a way of systematically interacting with a program. EDI is a language used by companies to represent common business documents, such as purchase orders, shipping notices, and functional acknowledgments. EDI by itself, however, isn’t all that useful.
It’s the business processes and orchestrations that enable companies to exchange EDI documents with partners in a well-governed, secured, and managed way that are extremely valuable.
That’s not to say APIs don’t have a place in EDI workflows. API integration augments EDI and help give deeper context to B2B integration. In conjunction with an evocation of an ERP’s API – for an item lookup, for instance – APIs can tell you where in the store you can find the products you want, while EDI lets you buy them. It’s these orchestrated, EDI-based interactions form the essence of revenue-driving business processes.
The nature of EDI and APIs technologies means that one likely won’t replace the other anytime soon but will work in tandem for a better business experience. When an integration platform enables organizations to leverage both technologies in an elegant way, that’s when organizations start to achieve the real benefits of EDI.
Leading EDI Solutions
With EDI so widespread and often mandated, it’s difficult to argue that it could become obsolete in the near future. And that’s why leading EDI providers work to enhance their solutions that already handle the heavy lifting of B2B and EDI, integrating them with emerging cloud integration and big data initiatives.
Current architectural approaches saturated with outdated legacy solutions and custom scripting cannot help companies manage the entire life cycle of the value chain, and neither can the “silver bullet” solution promised by API connectivity.
What businesses are seeing, then, is a shift in ways to accomplish EDI and what it means to be “doing EDI.” And this means organizations are finding more ways to leverage B2B integration and the benefits of EDI to gain sustainable business value.