EDIFACT: History and Organizational Structure

EDIFACT is an acronym for EDI For Administration, Commerce and Transport. It coordinates international standardization by working through the UN/ECE (United Nations/Economic Commission for Europe). EDIFACT standards are mostly used in Europe. This post will introduce general terms and organizational concepts necessary to understand proper usage of the standard.

As we have already discussed in many of our previous posts devoted to global EDI standardization, EDI standards facilitate electronic data interchange (EDI) by providing:

  • Rules of syntax
  • Definition of the data organization
  • Editing rules and conventions
  • Published public documentation

International EDI standards:

  • Allow an ‘open’ system
  • Reduce implementation effort
  • Provide ‘third-party interfaces’

As for EDIFACT, we can say that it provides:

  • an international EDI standard
  • a set of syntax rules
  • data elements, segments and codes
  • messages.

As shown in the following diagram, EDIFACT is the product of the evolution in bringing the Proprietary Standards of the US and Europe together to form a single international EDI standard.

EDIFACTIn order to bring about the evolution of the standard, the UN has created UN/ECE to coordinate this effort.


The organizational structure of the regional boards are all structured in a similar fashion. Here is the organizational structure of the Pan American Board:


UN/EDIFACT (the United Nations rules for Elec­tronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport) comprise a set of internationally agreed standards, directo­ries, and guidelines for the electronic interchange of structured data, between independent computerized information systems.

Recommended within the framework of the Unit­ed Nations, the rules are ap­proved and published by UNECE in the UNTDID (United Nations Trade Data Interchange Directory) and are maintained under agreed procedures.

User groups may be organized in several ways. But they all need some form of communication agreement, although requirements differ according to the groups in question and to what has been included in their “users manual” or “application level protocol” which is an agreement, but of a more technical nature.

Apparently there is a strong need for communication agreements where EDI is used between defined organizations. It is suggested that this need may be even more important in direct open communication. Several user groups have stressed that the standard rules make a useful basis for their communication agreements. EDIFACT agreed rules give more than a mere starting point. Defining an accepted level of professional behavior they also secure a common approach.

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