About Cleva and Sunland
With more than 15 years’ experience in engineering and motor technology, Cleva North America, Inc. offers a dependable portfolio of innovative brands including Vacmaster®, Vacmaster Professional®, Duravac™, Armor All™ and LawnMaster®. Cleva was growing rapidly and wanted their shipping process automated using EDIs
Sunland was chosen by Cleva as its 3PL (Third party logistics) because of their expertise in operations and importantly, Information Technology capabilities. Sunland differentiates itself by providing IT as a value add.
Challenges at hand
Cleva was shipping to some of the biggest retailers and wanted to automate the shipment process for BestBuy, Amazon, Target, Walmart, HomeDepot, Sears RIM, Sears Holdings and Sears.com for phase 1. By “automate the shipment process”, what we mean is, they wanted to send the shipment notification as EDI (Advanced Shipment Notification X12 856) as opposed to manually filling up forms for the shipment with item details, carrier details (UPS, Fedex tracking number etc) and packaging information. This obviously is a time consuming process involving heavy human labor and becomes impractical as they grow. That’s where EDIs come into the picture.
The challenge for Sunland and Cleva was to complete the development of all the 856 (Advanced Shipment Notification) EDIs for the above listed retailers, integrate it with Sunland’s WMS, test it and move things into production in a relatively short period of time. Being Sunland’s IT partner, ByteAlly was given the responsibility of the executing the entire development process.
ByteAlly’s role and process
Prioritization according to shipment dates
We began prioritizing the IT tasks taking operation’s timelines & important shipment dates into account. The end result of this was a planned timeline for the EDI development tasks.
Adhering to EDI specifications & guidelines
We acquired the latest EDI specifications, guidelines of the retailers. Apart from the specifications of the EDI itself, we extracted out the important business rules that has to be followed while sending the ASN EDIs. For example, for Amazon, the EDI has to be sent within 24 hours from the time the shipment leaves the warehouse. Also, Cleva expected the 945 (Shipment Advice) EDI and the 856 (Advanced Shipment Notification) EDI to be triggered exactly at the same time. Such business rules have to be taken into account.
Establishing connectivity for EDI transmission
While the development was proceeding parallelly, we set up connections and test environments with the retailers or their corresponding EDI partners. For Amazon, you can setup connections yourself using the Amazon Vendor Central portal and for retailers like HomeDepot, BestBuy you will have to initiate contact with their assigned EDI partner, CommerceHub to setup connectivity for transmitting the EDIs. The process to setup these connections (AS2, OFTP, SFTP) varies for each retailer and in some ways is time consuming because there is a long queue waiting for the assigned EDI partner to respond. Amazon, Target and Walmart are way ahead in terms of the tools and technologies. They have a portal using which you can set things up yourself using your IT team or IT partner instead of waiting for the assigned EDI partner to respond.
Integration of EDI with the WMS/ERP
EDIs are nothing but data sent between two trading partners. In this particular case, Cleva sends their shipping order to Sunland as X12 940 EDI (Warehouse Shipping Order) . This EDI will have the line items to be shipped, preferred carrier, shipment date, customer address etc. This information is mapped into Sunland’s WMS system as orders for the operation team to process. This is what you would have frequently heard as “EDI mapping”. In this case, storing the data in the 940 EDI(Warehouse Shipping Order) as orders inside your ERP/WMS. This is typically done by the IT team.
Once the operation team is done processing the order, the package will be then collected by the assigned carrier. This is when, we will have to generate a 856 EDI (Advanced Shipment Notification) file for the order and transmit to the corresponding retailer. Hence, notifying their systems that they will soon receive our shipment.
In order to populate the 856 EDI (Advanced Shipment Notification) with all the expected information (carrier code, tracking number, package dimensions, weight etc, expected arrival date etc), we should have the necessary information mapped out of the WMS/ERP system. To do this, we would have our code integrate with the WMS/ERP.
EDI testing process
Once you are in a position to generate test EDI post integration with your ERP/WMS, the next step would be going through the testing process of the EDIs with the retailers. Each retailer is different from the other. The common thread is that, you will have to generate EDI for different use cases (partial shipments, full shipment etc). To cite few examples, CommerceHub, the EDI partner for HomeDepot expects you to satisfy 8 test cases. Amazon on the other hand two test cases (for ASN). In case of issues in your test files, you will be notified by the retailer’s testing team. Like I mentioned above, Amazon, Walmart and Target are way ahead in the game. Everything is automated and you will receive error notifications in case of issues. With the others though, it is most likely a support person emailing you back and forth, which is not real time and you might lose considerable time here.
If it’s your first time with EDI integration, be prepared to shell out a month or two for this part of the cycle alone. One of the things you really need to be good at is, making changes to the EDI document quickly to address the issues found during testing.
Automating the process
Just developing the EDI would not suffice in a real world environment. You will need to automate the entire process to make it work at scale. In this particular case, when a 940 (Warehouse Shipment Order) comes to Sunland, the data from the 940 should be auto-populated inside the WMS/ERP as orders.
Likewise, when the order is ready to be shipped, the 856 (Advanced Shipment Notification) should be generated and transmitted to the corresponding retailer automatically.
Automations, should consider business rules and validate the EDIs before transmitting them. Violating the specifications of a retailer can result in fines. As an example, Sears expects the ASN to be sent exactly on the date of shipment. Not earlier and not on the next day. Amazon (another example) gives you a time frame of 24 hours to send the 856 (Advanced Shipment Notification). These are just examples of the long list of business rules you should adhere to while automating your EDI process.
Bringing Visibility to Cleva
Even after totally automating the EDI process, one of the issues that Cleva faced was visibility on the status of orders. Listed below are the things that needed visibility
- If Cleva sent a total of hundred 940 (Warehouse Shipment Advice) EDI files, did Sunland receive all of them?
- What is the status of each order? To answer this question, we had to integrate with Sunland’s ERP and fetch the status of an order from the ERP.
- Has the Advanced Shipment Notification for an order been generated and transmitted successfully?
- If there was a failure in generating a 856 (Advanced Shipment Notification) can it be notified/displayed for the operations team and also Cleva, so they act on such things proactively?
Things mentioned above impact the efficiency the operations in a huge way and taking control of them will help Cleva keep a control on the fines incurred due to non-compliance with the retailers.
ByteAlly’s solution to all the questions was a custom dashboard, which will let them know the following things
- Number of orders received from Cleva by Sunland (can be sorted by date, retailer)
- Status of each order inside Sunland’s WMS (Shipped, Inprogress, Cancelled etc)
- Status of ASN EDI (Sent, Failed)
To this day, Cleva’s team and the operations team use this dashboard on a daily basis to help them reach their daily target and pro-actively act on orders that have EDI issues.
- Understand the operations thoroughly and the timelines
- List down all business validations rules
- Test all possible scenarios
- Automate as much as possible
- Visibility is the key
- Make it easy for the operation team on the floor