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Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is the computer-to-computer exchange of business documents in a standard electronic format between business partners. By moving from a paper-based exchange of business document to one that is electronic, businesses enjoy major benefits such as reduced cost, increased processing speed, reduced errors and improved relationships with business partners. Business documents – These are any of the documents that are typically exchanged between businesses. Standard format– Because EDI documents must be processed by computers rather than humans, a standard format must be used so that the computer will be able to read and understand the documents.
Business partners – The exchange of EDI documents is typically between two different companies, referred to as business partners or trading partners. A comprehensive overview of EDI, the benefits of implementing, how EDI documents are structured & the communications methods used. Press coverage of the recent SE Report described e-commerce as the ‘biggest thing in business today’, supporting 200,000 jobs and contributing ?31 billion in sales to the Scottish economy.
Based on this evidence, it would appear that e-commerce is ‘mission critical’ to the future success of the Scottish economy – or is it?
Given the claim that e-commerce is critical to the Scottish economy, it is somewhat surprising that no online forum has been set up to encourage industry feedback and comment on what has been described as a ‘landmark, no-nonsense report that gets right to the heart of the issue’. Decisions concerning public sector digital support will have a major impact on the future competitiveness of the Scottish economy. Given the dearth of available statistics on Scottish e-commerce, the Report authors (SQW) have done an excellent job at bringing together disparate information from a wide range of sources, using different methodologies and often with different definitions of e-commerce.  This is a strength, but also a weakness of the Report. The Report represents the first serious attempt at pulling together disparate information sources to present a detailed snapshot of e-commerce in Scotland.
It is our opinion that the evidence presented is simply not strong enough to support the case for e-commerce being the focal point of future digital policy in Scotland. It is the value of web site e-commerce sales that most people will read into the Report, not EDI. We would stress that the comments above should not in any way be seen as a criticism of SQW.  The authors are very open and honest throughout the Report on the methodology weaknesses due to the lack of available statistical evidence on Scottish e-commerce. Before committing public resource to support e-commerce, surely we should agree its relative importance to the Scottish economy and whether we are world leaders or laggards? One aspect of the Report’s methodology and findings that we do take issue with is the recommendation that ‘it would be worth assessing the feasibility of a Scottish university offering an MSc in e-commerce, in liaison with HEI partners’.  As far as we can see, nobody from the Higher Education sector was consulted as part of this research.
It is worth pointing out, at this stage, that SE’s narrow focus on transaction based e-commerce is in mark contrast to the much wider approach being adopted by other countries.
Having been closely involved at the ‘coalface’ of Internet developments in Scotland since 1996, it will come as no surprise that we do consider e-commerce to be important to the future competitiveness of the Scottish economy. Based on the above, it is a legitimate question to ask why did SE commission a Report with such a narrow focus on transaction based e-commerce? E-commerce refers to the selling or trading of goods and services online (through web or other ‘digital’ channels e.g. As we have stated elsewhere, if we continue to treat our customers like passive sheep just waiting to be driven to our web site, there is a real danger that the sheep will tell us to ‘flock off’.
As leading-edge thinking around the world points to the need for companies to become social; as Gen C (the connected customer) demand social responses, we in Scotland publish reports on e-commerce.
We have no doubt that the above recommendations would receive the full support of the e-commerce supply industry in Scotland. However, we would argue strongly against concentrating public support on transaction based e-commerce.  This would be a major mistake and would divert limited public sector resources from other more important issues. We welcome feedback and comments on this post, either using the comments box below or on a forum of your own choice (just let us know which one).
PS: Apologies for the length of this post but hopefully you will agree that it raises important issues for the future competitiveness of the Scottish economy.
London leads in this with e-Commerce conferences and rather than recreating that in Scotland, we should take advantage of London’s critical mass by going there for 1st class events. Scottish Enterprise would do well to utilise the expertise we already have in Scotland amongst online retailers to give peer based advice to other retailers – rather than the system as it stands which can more often rely on consultants.



This will be a crowdsourced event – so very open to ideas on what should be included, looking for speakers, chair people etc. Firstly, well done on producing such a thorough and well thought through response to SE’s report. Social, mobile and the Cloud provide us with the platforms for innovative new customer led approaches to business and I agree totally with you that these are of equal if not more importance than e-commerce.
My main concern with the SE Report, and its narrow focus on e-commerce, is the fact that it will divert attention away from these other very important issues. Thanks again for taking the time to comment – I will be in touch soon about Glasgow for Business Week.
I agree that the very real danger of this report is that it diverts attention away from the wider, and arguably more important, issues surrounding Scotland’s digital economic future.
As to your point about a proposed International Center of Digital Excellence – makes perfect sense. Content all been said before, for me this is like looking at a report from the mid to late 90’s where we had great vision and even greater challenges.
12 years or so on, I’m reading the same info in a report that most probably cost thousands to produce.
If we want a true connected Scotland, less academic input and stat gathering which always results in narrow thinking and never about what we should have achieved, have actually achieved and, importantly what we can achieve. I remain puzzled why the social media community has found it so hard to engage with e-commerce. We would very much welcome a contribution from your good self on e-commerce at one of the sessions. We deeply recognise the value that social media plays with the businesses we support – especially in the areas of brand development and customer loyalty.
A big advantage that e-commerce has is that you may do something and there is an almost instant ringing at the tills quickly followed by job adverts.
Government agencies have been given clear guidelines to focus on the creation of wealth by local companies, job creation and, most important of all, exports. Check here to Subscribe to notifications for new posts Notify me of follow-up comments by email. There are several EDI standards in use today, including ANSI, EDIFACT, TRADACOMS and ebXML. Businesses typically use an EDI translator – either as in-house software or via an EDI service provider – to translate the EDI format so the data can be used by their internal applications and thus enable straight through processing of documents.
While email is also an electronic approach, the documents exchanged via email must still be handled by people rather than computers. The most common documents exchanged via EDI are purchase orders, invoices and Advance Ship Notices. One expert stated that ‘e-commerce employs roughly double the number of people employed in the oil and gas industry’ (see References). Before committing public resource behind the main recommendations of the Report, should we not be crowdsourcing the collective knowledge and experience of the whole digital supply industry in Scotland?  Early soundings, using Twitter, would suggest that there is considerable unease with a number of aspects of the recent Report which need addressed. They are based on UK-level data, adjusted for Scotland’s share of UK employees in each sector, as there is no definitive source for such data at the Scotland-level at present’.
It covers all e-transactions, including EDI.  The estimated value of e-commerce sales over web sites is just ?8 billion or 26% of the total. By our calculation, the number of jobs supported by web site e-commerce is closer to 51,600 rather than 200,000 – still important but not ‘double the number working in the oil and gas industry’ as claimed by a leading e-commerce expert. One headline states that ‘Scotland lags behind rest of the UK in e-Commerce’ yet the report states very clearly that in most areas we do not lag behind (see References).
However, it is NOT the ‘biggest thing in business today’; nor the most important challenge facing the Scottish economy. As we have argued on numerous previous occasions on this blog, radical new innovative approaches to doing business are required. Whether the recommendations would maximise the ROI from public sector support is another matter.


You could argue that most companies have been aware of the implications and opportunities presented by eCommerce for at least the last 10 years. Since then, i think we would both agree, that social media, the cloud, mobile etc represent customer empowerment on steroids.
I would suggest that not only would there be the demand to justify such a initiative, but more importantly we have the indigenous skills, knowledge and experiences to deliver it successfully! Our old business Ecosse IT not only developed E-commerce platforms for some major organisations as did many small businesses, who never really got the “slap on the back” they deserved, we also ran a very successful VISP, however the real challenges back then were connectivity.
Facebook has found it difficult to develop significant levels of e-commerce from their site (though they continue to try).
All make use of all the usual social channels yet over the past 12 months these social channels have contributed, on average, only 1.8% of channel sales.
My only point is that the practice of e-commerce (that is all about buying personas, goal analytics, site internationalisation, conversion optimisation, supply-chain balancing, user-testing, channel segmentation, etc) is worth investing in. The problem is that it’s often difficult to put numbers (sales, jobs) against such things. With that remit it’s no-brainer where they have chosen to focus the application of new resources. The most common documents exchanged via EDI are purchase orders, invoices and advance ship notices.
Having people involved slows down the processing of the documents and also introduces errors.
But there are many, many others such as bill of lading, customs documents, inventory documents, shipping status documents.
A large number of very interesting and useful graphs, tables and statistics are presented.  Whether the evidence presented is robust enough to support the main recommendations of the Report and future policy-making in this area is another question. Countries such as Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, US, Australia, Singapore, Finland and others have a higher e-readiness score than the UK, hence Scotland. However, very few have properly gotten to grips with the cultural shift that has been predicated by the advent of social media.
Retail businesses are not allowed to receive grant support due to rules about displacement.
When people have decided they want to buy something they tend to leave social channels and move to channels such as Amazon, eBay, Google Shopping, price comparison sites, etc to find the best products at the best prices.
As the Scottish Enterprise report says, there are currently no centres providing training or skills in this area and most e-commerce attempts fail because those involved simply don’t know what needs to be done to succeed.
But there are many, many others such as bill of lading, customs documents, inventory documents, shipping status documents and payment documents. Without a standard format, each company would send documents using its company-specific format and, much as an English-speaking person probably doesn’t understand Japanese, the receiver’s computer system doesn’t understand the company-specific format of the sender’s format. When two businesses decide to exchange EDI documents, they must agree on the specific EDI standard and version. Instead, EDI documents can flow straight through to the appropriate application on the receiver’s computer (e.g. Without a standard format, each company would send documents using its company-specific format and, much as an English-speaking person probably doesn’t understand Japanese, the receiver’s computer system doesn’t understand the company-specific format of the sender’s format.There are several EDI standards in use today, including ANSI, EDIFACT, TRADACOMS and XML. SE have already stated that the Report will have a major impact on future digital policy, with a much greater focus on ‘international e-commerce awareness, advice and support’.
By SQW’s own admission there are a large number of caveats and assumptions underlying the key findings and recommendations. Gen C (the connected customer) is demanding that our companies become social businesses – see our previous posts on this topic here.



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