Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 50 seconds

How Is Your EDI Department Attached?

connectedbizWhat I thought I'd touch on today is a topic that's been discussed in the past on the site: where does the "EDI Team" belong in your organization? I have a pretty good perspective on this one, since we experienced almost the entire gamut of organizational possibilities during my tenure.

If the "EDI team" is a single person or a small group with part-time EDI responsibilities, the reporting relationship probably doesn't matter much. It's likely a small, reactive part of a group's workload. However, for larger teams, especially in companies that take eCommerce seriously, the reporting relationship is very important. It can either facilitate the overall use of eCommerce across the organization, or it can be a hindrance from a budget, workflow, and project prioritization standpoint.

Most EDI teams seem to live in the IT arena. That's a broad characterization that often depends on the size of the company. In a large IT shop, EDI might be part of the applications development department, or it may be on the team that supports interfaces, or even included in the website group. Having EDI as part of "the business" is also an option. If the team's focus is on supply chain, maybe it belongs to purchasing, or if it's a process that allows your customers to order from you, customer service or sales may be organizational alternatives.

My team experienced nearly all of the above. As organizations evolve, change becomes a constant and reorganizations occur frequently. In conjunction with our company's moves, we went through a wide range of reporting relationships. Some worked better than others. Let me give you a few examples of where we existed:

  • Part of a systems group (not part of IT) that developed, implemented, and supported electronic services.
  • In IT, as part of the applications development group that focused on customer-facing development (3 separate times).
  • In the interfaces group in IT.
  • As part of the eCommerce area, a separate division created for all things electronic for customers.
  • Under the customer service area that supported our branch and service center network.
  • In the enterprise support part of IT that provided IT-related services across the organization..
  • In a group that also supported web development and acquisitions.

Myriad reasons were given over the years for the moves: synergy with other teams in the group, budget alignment, goal alignment, consistency of focus, and others. All were relevant and worthwhile reasons, and as the company modified its approach and priorities their relative importance changed and we often moved under new leadership. For example, eCommerce was an important initiative for us at one point, with all of the company's "e" resources aligned under a single leader who reported to the CEO. Naturally, that's where we belonged. Later, after eCommerce became more closely integrated with the other parts of the business, we moved to customer service since we shared common goals related to perfect order continuous improvement initiatives.

The fact of the matter is that no matter where we reported, our work remained essentially the same. What changed as we moved around the organization was how 'easy' it was to do that work, who controlled our budget, how goals were set, and what direction was provided for continuous improvement projects. Now, every company is different and I wouldn't expect anyone to have followed a path similar to ours, but throughout all of our moves across the organization I've identified a couple things that seemed to have the greatest impact on the success of our position in the company. They are alignment and leadership.

The need for alignment should be pretty obvious. We all want to be in sync with our business partners, we want to have the budget we need to execute our role, and we'd like to have cooperation from other internal groups when we need it. If your team primarily supports the supply chain organization, you want to be aligned with their goals and objectives so they're not planning an eCommerce or EDI initiative that you don't have the resources to deliver. Does that mean you should be part of the supply chain department? Not necessarily, but if you report to IT you need to have processes in place to ensure you're aligned with that partner. In our case, the supply chain had a product line expansion initiative that resulted in the addition of a large number of new suppliers that required testing and certification. Since we had visibility into their plans through both routine informal discussions with their management as well as through the company's project planning system, we were able to identify a resource gap that we were able to outsource well in advance of the need.

Alignment with your business partners' goals is absolutely crucial, no matter where you report in your company. You must be able to support the goals that require your resources, and budget processes should address any gaps between expectations and reality. Those things can be accomplished no matter where you report. Whether or not your company has formal processes in place to make them happen it can make it challenging, though. In our tours in IT, we sometimes had to depend on more informal relationships and contacts to make sure we were in the loop. The point is that you can make it work; it's just that sometimes it may take more effort on your part.

Leadership was the other key determinant of the success of our various alignments. In general, what we found was that the success of the alignment was often related to how well the leader of the organization you report into understands and values what your team does. That level of understanding allows him or her to broker the inevitable resource-related discussions with business partners, provides another conduit for information to keep you informed about efforts in the business that may affect your team, and functions as a key buffer between your team and upper management. Without that understanding, everything just becomes more difficult. You end up in constant 'leadership education' mode, it becomes tough to get the budget you need, and you feel isolated when things aren't going well.

We reported to a number of leaders through the years and were pretty lucky overall. I can assure you it's infinitely better to report to someone who knows what you do and will fight on your behalf. Our most successful organizational alignments were characterized by our reporting to leaders who knew what we could deliver, positioned us to execute, and knew when to leave us alone and when to get involved.

So, don't worry about where you report. You can make it work no matter where you are on the org chart. Focus on making sure you're aligned with the business areas you support, whether that's by formal or informal processes. And, if your 'big boss' doesn't 'get it', figure out the best way to provide the education he or she needs to best support you. You need both solid alignment with the business and good leadership to succeed.

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