EDI or Electronic Data Interchange, has been around for quite a while. In the 1990s it promised to be the way the world would exchange their business information. Well here we are in 2013 and that world has yet to be realized. Why? It’s certainly not because technology didn’t allow EDI to be readily available. It was also not for lack of any standards for companies to use.
So what was the problem? In a nutshell, the problem was that the world just changed too fast and there just didn’t exist a simple and effective way for companies to get into EDI without a large and ongoing investment. One standard has certainly made life easier – XML – most companies and software will accept XML to exchange data. The trick is getting your business data converted to XML.
Over the last year a new option has begun emerging. It promises finally to allow almost everyone to get into EDI. This time it doesn’t involve hiring expensive consultants and IT personnel. It uses what most companies already have and use every day – PDFs.
Most people don’t realize that the PDFs they receive every day contain a wealth of information waiting to be used. Take for example a Purchase Order or Invoice PDF. Most companies receive these documents every day by email from a variety of customers and suppliers. If only you had a way of automatically pulling the data off the PDF and putting it right into your in-house software. After all, you can cut and paste individual bits of information like part numbers and addresses off PDFs and paste them into your software, why not the whole document?
Unfortunately it’s not as easy as it sounds. Every company produces a PDF that lays out the data differently. So what is needed is a tool that will do this automatically and is flexible enough to accommodate a wide variety of documents.
If you do a web search there are a lot of tools available that will pull data off a PDF and save it in a text file. This would certainly be the first step to getting XML from PDFs. From there you will need to write a program that will extract the individual bits of data you need out of the file and reformat it as XML. Unfortunately that is easier than it sounds.
The other option is using a PDF to XML service provider. This is more than just using an off the shelf converter tool. It has to “know” how to deal with your documents individually so that the XML it converts to contains all of the information and can also scrub the data so everything is exactly the way you need it.
A few of my favorite tool are EDI Link (http://ecdynamics.com/pdf-conversion.php) as well as ChimpKey (http://chimpkey.com) and PDF to XML ((http://pdftoxml.com)) . They are all cloud based tools that perform a very simple but effective service for any size business. They convert your PDFs to XML or other EDI and deliver it back to you – that’s it. Essentially each PDF you give them, they create a one-time mapping or template that understands the logical layout of your PDF. Once this one-time mapping is done you are ready to use their service for any volume of conversion continuously. They have a few different options depending on how you want to interact with them. If your customers email you PDFs then you simply have them forwarded to their server and within moments they are converted and emailed back to you as useable XML. If you wish to integrate XML into your procedure closer then they will upload XML file to your FTP site.
Using a service like this promises to finally allow companies to get into the EDI world without the complexity and investment that has traditionally come with formal EDI implementations. And, at a fraction of the price and time. Implementation time is usually days instead of months.
Maybe soon we can finally start seeing EDI in widespread usage with a tool like this.