Keeping the Cookies Coming

When large companies want to do business with small suppliers using electronic data interchange, sometimes they have to find a bridge to cross the communications gap.


But that was only half the challenge for David's Cookies because, while the company had sufficient employees to handle order entry and processing for the couple dozen orders that would be coming in daily via the HSN.com Web site, the baker did not have the staff that would have been necessary to handle the thousands of orders that could be expected to roll in on days when HSN featured the cookies on one of its television shows. "There's no way that we could manually type out thousands of orders," says Tress. "It had to be an automated process."

Have Your Cookies and Eat Them, Too

By this time, however, HSN had found a way to have its cookies and eat them too, so to speak, by linking with its non-EDI-capable suppliers through third-party EDI service providers. The providers could receive electronic data interchange messages from the shopping network and provide the information therein to the suppliers in whatever format worked for the smaller companies, and vice versa, taking communications from the suppliers and translating them into EDI for transmission back to HSN.

The advantages of such services for a company such as HSN include not only extending the efficiencies that come with EDI to a larger portion or all, in HSN's case of the company's supply base, but also reducing the time and effort necessary to connect to a large number of suppliers. That gives HSN the flexibility to maintain the natural turnover in its supply base necessary to continuously bring new products to market while allowing the company to maintain only a small information technology (IT) staff devoted to EDI-related work three people, in all. Similarly, for the smaller company involved, the advantages include the ability to do business with much bigger partners while also avoiding the need for a large IT staff, not to mention the cost of setting up individual EDI connections with different customers.

Various such services exist, and HSN has established links with several of them, including providers that could perform fulfillment for the supplier in addition to acting as an EDI intermediary. When HSN needs to on-board a new supplier that is not EDI-ready, the shopping network points the other company in the direction of several of the services and lets the supplier decide what provider offers the model that best meets the supplier's own needs. In the case of David's Cookies, the baker elected to go with a New York City-based third-party service provider called Mercury Commerce, which offers a service called VendorBridge.

VendorBridge worked best for David's Cookies for a few reasons, according to Tress. First, the cookie company had its own fulfillment capabilities, so it did not require the more expansive services offered by some of the other third-party providers. Second, David's Cookies used UPS for all its shipping, and Mercury Commerce was able to provide shipping information to David's in a file that could be imported directly into a UPS application so that the cookie company's staff did not have to rekey the data. And finally, Mercury Commerce's solution is entirely Web-based, with no software to install at David's Cookies (or at HSN, for that matter) and no upfront cost to the cookie company for the initial set-up.

Tress works with a staff of two others at the cookie company, and his team is able to go online to the VendorBridge Web site once daily to pull down all the orders that have come in that day to HSN for David's. The staff then prints out the orders for packing slips, loads the data into the UPS system and prints the UPS labels. Tress' team passes the orders off to a pair of employees in fulfillment on those days when the orders only number in the dozens. When HSN features David's Cookies on one of its television shows, typically generating thousands of orders, the company ships the orders off a production line in the back of the business.

When the orders go out the door, David's Cookies sends a confirmation of shipping, along with tracking numbers, back through VendorBridge to HSN, which receives the message as an EDI shipping confirmation. That confirmation also triggers the payment process at HSN. Should any product be returned to David's, the cookie company notifies HSN through VendorBridge as well.

Baking EDI into the Cookies

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