WELCOME TO THE EDI ZONE - the strange, mysterious and often confusing world of the bureaucracies that create and manage electronic messages.

EDI is computer to computer communication using highly standardized electronic versions of common business documents. EDI takes place only when standards are used.These standards are a bridge, an electronic dictionary that both translates and takes action. Machines equipped with EDI know where every ZIP code, every contact name, every price quote is supposed to be. EDI messages must conform to the standards set in the electronic dictionaries.

Confusion creeps in, however, at a number of levels. Not all the organizations that play an important role in EDI actually create messages.

And try this one on for size. The EDI Association, formerly known as the Transportation Data Coordinating Committee, does not create or manage electronic messages at all.

The Journal of Commerce has implied otherwise in the past, and we apologize for any confusion we may have created.

The EDI Association's job is to educate about EDI and promote the technology, and to administer the Data Element Dictionary, according to Paul Lemme, executive vice president.

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WHEN IS ONE, TWO? In EDI-land, of course.

Although the EDI Association administers the dictionary that defines the structure of standardized messages, so does Data Interchange Standards Association Inc. (DISA).

These dictionaries are the same, but they're also different. As Mr. Lemme explains it, the EDI Association's dictionary is a workaday document. It is implementation-oriented, he said.

DISA is the administrative body for the American National Standards Association's X12 Group. X12 sets national EDI standards.

X12's generic messages are designed to fill the needs of many industries, unlike those created by other EDI bodies, which focus on the needs of specific businesses.

Although the definitions of electronic messages are strict, they are constantly evolving as industry needs and computer technology change. The dictionaries thus must change. That is where the dictionaries diverge. This situation has made some people unhappy.

There is enough confusion out there without us creating more of it, said Harriet Rusk, president of DISA.

The two dictionaries are updated at different times from different sources. There's no way they're ever going to be the same, she said.

DISA is interested in seeing the dictionaries merge. The EDI Association is not. Their purposes are different, so they will not mix comfortably, said Mr. Lemme.

DISA anchors a national standard; the EDI Association supports the people who are working with the standard every day. A working dictionary needs to be able to change rapidly. A national one is less flexible, EDI experts claimed.

Last week Ms. Rusk and Jerome Dreyer, president of the EDI Association, met to begin discussions on how the two organizations could work together more smoothly.

We're just starting, said Ms. Rusk. We want to make sure we work together and not at cross purposes, she said.

Good luck.