The week I traveled happened to coincide with the capture of the terrorists plotting to blow up the planes en route from London to the US. Even though I wasn't on one of those flights, security made traveling by air nearly impossible, causing delays at each of my three stops along the way. And at the second leg I got tired of justifying every belonging in my luggage and simply sent all my electronics ahead of me via FedEx. That made travel easier but I was on digital withdrawal by the time I touched down in San Francisco. By the time I reached Mendocino I had to ease my frayed nerves with (of course) a good meal. I went much further upscale than my normal tastes and walked into the Cafe Beaujolais, where all my distress evaporated over an amazing filet mignon and veggies, all locally grown.
On my way I had plenty of time to jabber with my seatmates on the planes, having no laptop to distract me. I had an interesting conversation with an EDI professional who told me about his forced conversion from a very affordable and efficient EDI provider to a relatively high priced and proprietary intermediary. At the same time, he refused to give me his name, saying that part of the agreement he signed made the terms, pricing, and conditions of the agreement proprietary and confidential. He actually broke out in a sweat when he told me this part, and I wondered what kind of personal information this company must have on him. So, I'm relating what I heard acknowledging that he could be fabricating. I did put calls in to the companies involved but have not received calls back to confirm or even discuss the merits of his claims.
Last year, this person (call him Adam) got a mandate letter from his biggest customer, SYSCO recommending that he onboard with. On the face of it, that was no problem. Adam's company has more than 40 customers that it transacts EDI with every day, and that amounts to more than 60% of the company's business. Adam knew that he could simply call his current EDI provider and have them enable SYSCO as a trading partner on their system and that would be the end of the issue.
But it turns out that SYSCO has an exclusive arrangement with iTradeNetwork to manage all its EDI traffic. I'd heard similar stories before, where the mandate is not just to onboard, but to onboard with the EDI provider specified by the trading partner. This was another instance of the heavy hand, according to Adam. When he asked if he could simply use his existing supplier, he was told that he could certainly continue to use his provider of choice, but he would first need to pony up a "certification fee." I've also heard of certification/testing/buy-out fees before, but this one was somewhere over $10,000. That's a lot of transactions, and Adam decided it was easier to leave 39 trading partners on his existing transport and sign up with iTrade for SYSCO. Even after caving in to the pressure, Adam still spent about half the amount of the certification fee with iTrade during the first year doing business through them. It seems to me he may have done better financially, buying himself out of the deal.
The subject of data synchronization came up next, and Adam admitted that his company hadn't been ready to publish its product information when SYSCO mandated that it use its new EFS network. He did admit that overall, data synchronization has been a positive thing for him and all his trading partners, but decried the fact that he now has three separate data pools that he has to update independently. Apparently he has to manage his data on UCCNet, separately update his data pool for his Canadian customers, and then (again separately) update the EFS data pool. I questioned him about the premise that all the data pools supposedly talked to each other as part of the overall concept of "data synchronization," but he swore that this was not the case. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that EFS is also part of iTradeNetwork's product family.
Fortunately, that was the last leg of my trip, and I left Adam on his way to the baggage claim at San Francisco airport. After I picked up my rental car and made my way over the Golden Gate, I had another couple hours of solitude to consider how terrorism has changed the way we live.Last modified on Friday, 17 February 2012