Electronic Data Interchange

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Electronic data interchange (EDI) is the structured transmission of data between organizations by electronic means. It is used to transfer electronic documents or business data from one computer system to another computer system, i.e. from one trading partner to another trading partner without human intervention.

It is more than mere e-mail; for instance, organizations might replace bills of lading and even cheques with appropriate EDI messages. It also refers specifically to a family of standards, e.g. UN/EDIFACT, ANSI X12.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology in a 1996 publication [1] defines electronic data interchange as "the computer-to-computer interchange of strictly formatted messages that represent documents other than monetary instruments. EDI implies a sequence of messages between two parties, either of whom may serve as originator or recipient. The formatted data representing the documents may be transmitted from originator to recipient via telecommunications or physically transported on electronic storage media.". It goes on further to say that "In EDI, the usual processing of received messages is by computer only. Human intervention in the processing of a received message is typically intended only for error conditions, for quality review, and for special situations. For example, the transmission of binary or textual data is not EDI as defined here unless the data are treated as one or more data elements of an EDI message and are not normally intended for human interpretation as part of online data processing." [1]

EDI can be formally defined as 'The transfer of structured data, by agreed message standards, from one computer system to another without human intervention'. Most other definitions used are variations on this theme. Even in this era of technologies such as XML web services, the Internet and the World Wide Web, EDI may be the data format used by the vast majority of electronic commerce transactions in the world.

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