Onboarding business partners is a crucial step in any EDI project. Indeed, it may be said to be the most important, for a technically perfect EDI solution has no value if business partners are not connected and exchanging messages effectively. Given the complexity of the issue, this article presents the most important aspects of the process to help you increase your chances of success with your EDI project.

Onboarding Strategies

The two most common onboarding strategies are big bang and phased. Choosing the most suitable one has an important impact on the onboarding process. If you opt for the "big bang" mode (a single go-live for all partners and all types of messages at the same time), careful planning for this phase is absolutely essential if you want to avoid delays and budget over-runs.

A phased strategy, on the other hand, will extend the time required for the project but will allow better control over the process, along with greater flexibility and capacity to adapt to project progress. Indeed, corrections can be introduced after each phase, optimizing the deployment of subsequent ones. In order to divide partners into groups for this kind of strategy, several criteria may be taken into account: geographical scope, volume, your business priorities, and many more. It is also possible to mix the criteria. How you do it depends on your particular situation.

Division of Responsibilities

Responsibilities for various project actions must be very clearly defined between you and your EDI provider. Dividing responsibilities can be achieved in two major ways: a division model and an outsourcing model.

In the division model, you manage the business side of the process (presentation of the project and EDI provider to the partners, description of schedule and deadlines, retrieving and checking contact data, etc.). The EDI provider will get involved only for the technical part, obtaining technical information and the configuration of EDI communication. This model leads to greater efficiency in the onboarding process thanks to the already existing relationship between you and your partners.

In the outsourcing model, you delegate the whole process of onboarding business partners to your EDI provider. All communication is carried out by the provider. The advantage of such a solution is that you do not have to tie up resources managing your EDI project. The disadvantage is that, since your partners do not know the EDI provider, they are sometimes reluctant to cooperate and provide the necessary information. Of course, you can still participate in the process. 

Onboarding Approaches

Choosing the right onboarding approach for your project depends on your goals, priorities and relationship with the partners in scope of the project. There are two main approaches to onboarding: an aggressive approach and a soft approach.

The aggressive approach involves setting a deadline for onboarding the target partners. This deadline must be final and immutable. In addition, you leave your partners with no alternative; from the chosen date, the old message exchange processes cease and the only mode of communication will be EDI. Of course, such a method is not always possible to implement – it all depends on your relationship with your business partners.

In order to mitigate this approach and make it easier for the partners, it is advisable to give them the option to connect to the EDI solution via a web application in case they are not ready for full integration on the due date. This will give your partners time to finish the internal changes necessary for such integration, while ensuring the implementation of EDI exchanges on time. The web application serves here as a backup.

On the other hand, the soft approach presupposes positive motivation of partners, with no penalties foreseen for those who are not onboarded in time. In addition, your partners have the opportunity to postpone their onboarding timeline, or even to continue using other exchange processes. Of course, this approach often results in a lower onboarding rate than with the aggressive approach.

It is of course possible to mix both of these approaches – for some business partners the aggressive approach could be chosen and for others the soft one would be more adequate.

Take Onboarding into Account when Choosing EDI Provider

It is important that the EDI solution you choose is adapted to the IT maturity of your partners. The bigger partners, which exchange a large number of messages, probably have the means to implement full integration. However, the smaller partners, who exchange a low volume of messages or are simply not technologically mature, are unlikely to move to EDI if full integration is the only option. In such cases, it would be useful to have a web alternative, that is to say an EDI portal, web-based application accessible via an Internet browser, which does not require configuration of a communication channel or integration with an ERP system.

Additionally, if you have a lot of partners to onboard, you may opt for a self-onboarding portal. This, as its name suggests, allows partners wishing to exchange EDI messages to onboard themselves, without any helpdesk intervention being necessary. For EDI projects with a large number of partners to onboard, such a solution often saves time and is more efficient.

Another point worth the attention when choosing an EDI provider is its ability to provide the onboarding service in the languages that are part of the project’s scope. This is especially true for international projects, where your partners might wish, or even require, contact and documentation in their local language. The ability to communicate with partners in their language of choice improves the quality of the relationship with the EDI provider and, above all, significantly reduces the risks of misunderstanding and errors.

If your project is a global one, opt for EDI providers who have extensive international experience in onboarding partners. In addition, choosing an EDI provider that already has a large established EDI network will reduce the cost of setting up your project. Indeed, if among your business partners there are already some who are connected to the chosen EDI solution, onboarding will be much faster and less expensive.

Bearing this in mind, you will increase the chances of success for your EDI project, making it as easy and enjoyable as possible for your business partners.