International EDI Standards

International EDI Standards: ASC X12 and UN/EDIFACT

International EDI Standards were developed during the worldwide spread of EDI transactions. Some EDI transaction sets that are still in use today were created in 1975 when the TDCC (Transportation Data Coordinating Committee) gathered representatives from the transportation industry to create a first set of formal EDI transaction standards. These transaction sets were primarily created for the transportation industry. TDCC is often referred to as the original publicly published EDI standard. The work did not stop there. The manufacturing, retail and financial industries were all using proprietary means for exchanging business documents electronically; as this usage grew the need for a generic set of standards for transactions such as purchase orders, invoices, and payments became more and more evident.

ASC X12 Standard

International EDI StandardsIn 1979, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI founded in 1918 to oversee international EDI standards development in the United States) chartered the X12 Accredited Standards Committee (ASC X12) to develop national EDI standards. This began to bring order out of disorder, and uniformity out of what had been Balkanization. In the late 1980s, most standards body groups in North America were transitioned to the ASC X12 standards body. In 1989 the TDCC shifted its transportation, warehousing, and retail to ASC X12. The TDCC standards no longer exist and were merged to the transportation transaction sets governed under X12. ASC X12 is the most widely used EDI standard in the United States.

DISA (Data Interchange Standards Association) is a term that you will often come across in the EDI industry. DISA is the secretariat to ASC X12 and provides technical and administrative support.

The ASC X12 standards contain over 300 transactions. To make more efficient use of them, several industries have used subsets of X12 standards to develop guidelines specific to their industries. For example, the Grocery industry uses UCS standards as a subset of X12 to indicate which X12 transactions should be used for the grocery retail industry. The retail apparel industry is different from the grocery industry, therefore, VICS (Voluntary Inter-Industry Communication Standards) standards are used to define the best guidelines to be used specifically for this industry.

Other examples of X12 subcommittees include but are not limited to:
AIAG – Automotive Industry Action Group
CIDX – Chemical Industry Data Exchange
EIDX – Electronics Industry Data Exchange Group (CompTIA)
PIDX – American Petroleum Institute.

Each of these industry-specific groups defines a specific subset of the X12 sets; none create a proprietary standard that deviates from the general X12 set.


International EDI StandardsIn 1987, United Nations and the Industry Standards Organization (ISO) recognized the UN/EDIFACT international EDI standards. UN/EDIFACT stands for United Nations EDI for Administration, Commerce, and Transport. UN/EDIFACT is very popular in Europe. While ASC X12 transactions are called transaction sets and are referenced by numbers (e.g. 850 is a purchase order), the EDIFACT transactions are called messages and are referenced by a six-letter name. The two most popular transactions in EDIFACT are the international invoice (INVOIC) and the international purchase order (ORDERS).

In United Kingdom, the TRADACOMS (Trading Data Communications Standard) standards were developed in 1982, specifically for the UK. Another European standards body, ODETTE (Organization for Data Exchange through Tele-Transmission in Europe), was popular in Europe for the automotive industry. Today almost all the TRADACOMS and ODETTE standards have been merged with UN/EDIFACT.

For years there has been progress in aligning the ASC X12 and EDIFACT standards. There is no doubt that ASC X12 and UN/EDIFACT are the dominant standards bodies in the world today. The goal and the philosophy of both standards body groups are the same. There is a need to have separate standards in order to support international requirements, especially in the customs and transportation industries. The difference for the EDI implementer is important when operating EDI on an international basis. Most commercial EDI software translation packages will have both the UN/EDIFACT and the ASC X12 standards dictionaries.

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