Supply Chain

RVCF Supply Chain Guidelines: Digital Communication and EDI Errors in Shipping and Receiving

Digital communication errors can be categorized as technical or business. Technical errors include syntax errors that occur when the data file does not meet the applicable technical specifications. This means the data cannot be “translated” into a format that is usable to the receiver of the data.

Business errors occur when the data is properly formed, but trading partner business rules are not met. A mandatory data element, e.g. PO Number or Invoice Number, may be present but the number itself is incorrect or incomplete. Another business error is a missing optional data element required by a retailer. An example of this is the Standard Carrier Alpha Code (SCAC)  which is not designated mandatory by X.12 EDI standards, but many retailers require the information.

Preventing EDI Errors

Technical Errors can be prevented by using the error identification capabilities in the software used to compile and translate the data. An EDI translator will verify the data structure, format and the presence of mandatory data for inbound and outbound transactions. Ideally, an EDI document that fails based on ANSI X12 specifications should never leave the sender’s system.

Customizing or making configuration changes to the EDI translation software (either in-house or third-party), or the EDI translation process, can cause technical errors to “get through” causing unintended problems. There may also be provisions for changing master data right before translation to accommodate a specific retailer request. An example may be converting Unit of Measure from “case” to “each”. While not a best business practice, these customizations may have been made as a ‘work around’ in the past, and may no longer be needed, or they may be necessary for exception handling for specific retailers. In any case, they should be documented and understood.

Business Errors and Additional Error Trapping

Errors can be prevented by executing error trapping routines on the data before it is streamed to the translator. This is often referred to as “pre-processing” and can be programmed for each retail trading partner. For instance, if a retailer requires an SCAC, an error trapping routine can be set up to make sure that data is present before sending the ASN. This error trapping should only be used to identify errors. Errors should be fixed in the original data source, and the data re-processed. “Fixing” errors in a pre-processing routine can lead to master data, security and audit issues.

Synchronized Master and Transactional Data

A major source of ASN errors is master data that is not synchronized between the supplier and retailer systems. This includes differences in item attributes such as package measurements, GTIN (Global Trade Item Number / UPC), description, case/inner pack quantity, the ship-from location for each item, and, if permitted, acceptable substitutions for the item. Transactional data includes PO Changes not successfully communicated, approved and synchronized between the retailer and supplier. The cost of non-compliance charges, unavailability of product for the consumer, and unpaid invoices based on a failed ASN justify the effort needed to keep the retailer and supplier’s systems concurrent.

Timing, especially for ASN’s, is obviously important. An EDI Ship Notice should be created after the shipment is sealed, representing the actual shipment, and must arrive before the shipment is received. Best business practice is to transmit the ASN within two hours of finalizing the shipment. Suppliers should understand the frequency with which retailers process EDI transactions.

Changes that occur when an order is picked for shipment, such as a shortage due to an out of stock situation or damaged goods, must be reflected in the ASN. Likewise, last minute additions to the order or permissible substitutions must be included in the ship notice. The supplier needs processes for adjusting the ASN accordingly and reprinting labels when needed.

Supplier Check List

  • Identify and document any customizations made to your in-house EDI translation process or with your EDI solution provider’s translation process.
  • Document instances of data changes in a pre-translation process, after leaving the master data table of record, and before it is converted to EDI. This is for both in-house and third-party systems)
  • Understand, by retailer, the cadence used for processing EDI Ship Notices.
  • Create a process for last minute PO changes and ASN corrections, including substitutions and shortages.
  • Create a process for reprinting labels damaged when applied, keeping SSCC’s in synch with what is sent in the ASN.
  • Retailer’s report that the biggest reason for ASN errors is a change in systems, supplier personnel, retailer requested carton configurations and new assortments / products. Be sure to test and verify systems and master data synchronization when changes are made.

To learn more about EDI and become a CEDIAP® (Certified EDI Academy Professional), please visit our course schedule page.

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