MANAGING THE FLOW OF INFORMATION IS CRUCIAL PAPERLESS TRADING ISSUE

MANAGING THE FLOW OF INFORMATION IS CRUCIAL PAPERLESS TRADING ISSUE

Managing the flow of information generated by paperless trading is one of the most important issues facing companies using the technology.

"We've built the bridge - now we've got to manage the bridge," said Nicholas Zaldastani, director, EDI solutions, Oracle Corp., San Mateo, Calif.Electronic data interchange enables companies to replace paper documents with standardized digital messages. In the United States, the American National Standards Institute's X12 Committee has the national mandate for making and maintaining EDI messages.

EDI messages allow otherwise incompatible computer systems to work together. With EDI, companies can automate accounting and inventory functions that involve one corporation working with another.

Dealing with the flow of data means a number of different things, said executives attending the recently concluded X12/DISA EDI '90 Conference in Las Vegas.

The Data Interchange Standards Association provides secretarial and business support for the X12 Committee.

Among the trends and developments highlighted by executives at the events:

* Industry specific messages. After years of concentrating on broadly oriented messages, individual industries are going back to developing their own messages. But they are using X12's standards as a foundation, so they can still communicate with companies in other fields.

* Cautious movement toward international standards. Momentum toward making X12's messages compatible with those of international groups is building. X12 users, however, warn that they are not the only ones who will have to compromise. International groups must give way as well if they expect real progress to be made.

* Database management software. Software is being developed that is specifically designed to allow companies to pull information on marketplace trends and development out of the flood of data that will result from the implementation of paperless trading systems.

Oracle Corp. is a leading developer of "relational database software" that allows companies to manipulate large amounts of data quickly and effectively. The company has not yet announced products for the paperless trading marketplace. But its staffers have been serving on key message maintenance and development committees for some time.

To encourage use of paperless trading, proponents have tried to insure that users have just one place to go when it comes to getting standardized messages.

Because of this, X12 is absorbing responsibility for maintaining messages formerly the purview of the Transportation Data Coordinating Committee, now known as the EDI Association.

Grocery stores have been among the most intense users of paperless trading technology. The messages they used for this purpose were known as the Uniform Communications Code. A TDCC committee handled UCC messages. Now X12 has assumed responsibility for UCC messages.

X12 is planning to propose creation of a distribution and warehousing subcommittee in June to handle them, said Ken Hutcheson, supervisor, EDI, E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co., Wilmington, and chairman of X12.

At the same time groups are turning responsibilities over to X12, leaders of the U.S. standards body are pushing for the group to begin an "alignment" process that will see its messages become compatible with those being developed by internationally.

These standards are being created by the United Nations-backed EDI for Administration, Commerce and Transport.

Both X12 and Edifact must compromise for this process to occur, Mr. Hutcheson said.

"The reason we're calling the process 'alignment' is that I believe that as we go through this it's going to cause both Edifact and X12 to change," he said.