Digitally Transforming the Rep Service Model with EDI

EDI Digitally Transforming Rep Manufacturer Service Model

EDI isn\’t just for distributor / manufacturer interactions. It can also effectively be used to reduce operational costs between independent manufacturer representatives and manufacturers while keeping the rep informed on all of the critical information needed to ensure superior customer service to their distributors.

IDEA Exchange worked with TradeTech Solutions to develop a solution to help one manufacturer that can now help many more.


  • IDEA Exchange has developed a modernized and affordable EDI Solution for manufacturer’s representatives. It was developed with Siemens and TradeTech TTS Platform.
  • EDI can ease the administrative burden on reps and manufacturers’ customer service staff by eliminating errors, manual processes, and communication gaps in the supply chain.
  • Reps can be “in the loop” for all orders, including orders direct from distributor to manufacturer, allowing upselling and better service.
  • Manufacturers gain a more efficient sales force, enabling their reps to spend more time selling.
  • The IDEA Exchange Rep EDI Program is designed as an annual fee per multiples of agencies, so no unexpected KiloCharacter (KC) costs.
  • Manufacturers are already taking advantage of the EDI solution and are seeing the benefits.

It’s no surprise that manufacturers and distributors use Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) to automate their administrative functions like invoicing, order acknowledgment and shipping notices. It eliminates errors, removes cost from the supply chain and results in better customer service.

Yet, in many ways, manufacturer’s representatives have been missing the digital transformation party.

Many reps are manually submitting orders, estimates, and other critical tasks. Email, online portals and yes, faxes, are used. Some agents are using EDI with their manufacturers yet are sometimes in the dark when their distributor customers send EDI orders directly to the manufacturer.

The process has been ripe for an upgrade.

Solving a Long-Standing Industry Problem

Innovation often happens when dedicated people are pursuing a solution.

In this case, the Siemens team experienced hundreds of costly EDI order errors each month from many of their manufacturer’s representatives.

Long ago, Siemens’ Talon division had automated its administrative functions with its agents using EDI, which brought more efficiency to its processes.

As the sales force for manufacturers, manufacturer’s agents interface with distributors, manage orders, and provide customer service, while manufacturers handle the billing function.

As a result, this process is critical to Siemens because it impacts a manufacturer’s ability to fulfill orders and bill distributor customers appropriately.

Challenges with the Rep Service Model

Siemens’ errors were connected to the EDI translation function within the ERP software that many of their sales agents used to manage their business functions.

“I had calculated thousands of duplicate orders over six months, and that didn’t include syntax errors and missing files,” said Ann Sadlowski, Senior Developer at Siemens.

“When you consider that each duplicate order takes one customer service person 5-to-10 minutes to review and verify, it became hundreds of Siemens staff hours to manage and manually fix these issues,” she said.

Although Siemens’ challenges were related to EDI errors, the industry as a whole experiences inefficiencies and errors from manual ordering processes.

Challenges the industry is facing with legacy ordering processes for manufacturer reps include:

  • Errors, duplicate orders, and lack of communication
  • Potentially hundreds of hours spent by customer service staff to fix errors, handle orders and communicate
  • Product distribution and delivery slowed by order errors
  • Manual interventions on all levels: customer service, IT and reps
  • Inefficient workflow and increased friction with critical order management between reps, manufacturers, and distributors

Modernizing the Rep EDI Solution

Siemens reached out to IDEA Exchange, their EDI provider and Value-Added Network (VAN), to find a solution.

Crafting a Solution for the Industry

Managing EDI Translation

IDEA Exchange’s team worked with Siemens to map the translation of flat files to EDI messages for the TTS software. IDEA Exchange now manages the translation process of messages to EDI, both in and out of the TTS software for Siemens and other manufacturers. TTS has continued to improve the process, including providing training to its rep customers.

Now that IDEA has a rep EDI solution in place; it has been able to help other manufacturers automate their supply chain processes with their manufacturers’ representatives, regardless of what software the agents are using to manage their businesses.

Among the many reps who use TradeTech’s TTS Platform, the solution is ready to increase efficiency and improve the sales process. In many cases, it’s a simple change to bring greater profitability to all parts of the supply chain.

Automating Critical Business Process Saves Hundreds of Staff Hours Each Month

As a result of this initiative, Sadlowski reports that Siemens is now saving several hundred staff hours each month, plus a business-critical manual process is now automated.

“It\’s a tremendous improvement from where we were before,” said Sadlowski. “Since IDEA took over the EDI translation, the process is automated without constant manual intervention to solve errors and duplicate orders.”

Improved Relationship Between Manufacturers and Agents

Siemens’ relationship with its manufacturer representatives is also improved.

“The old process resulted in a lot of frustration from both sides. Now we can all trust the data and the entire order cycle. It’s improved our relationship with our reps,” said Siemens’ Sadlowski.

A better relationship between manufacturers and their agents results in better communication, sales support and faster order fulfillment.

Improving the Order Process Industry-wide

Just as IDEA was a catalyst to improve the entire EDI order process between Siemens and its agents, IDEA is also working with other manufacturers who understand digital transformation value.

When reps are meeting with their manufacturers at the NEMRA Annual Meeting, remind, or perhaps inform, them about the IDEA Rep EDI solution that they can take advantage of. All manufacturers need to do is contact IDEA Exchange, and the IDEA team will walk them through the next steps. Currently the solution is built around the TradeTech TTS Platform. However, it can work with any rep ERP solution that can import and export files and handle an FTP connection to IDEA Exchange.

For more information, contact IDEA Exchange at (833) 214-5775.

EDI Benefits the Channel

With rep operating costs rising, manufacturers seeking digital transformation and a reduction in supply chain costs and everyone wanting everything \”faster\” and more accurate to reduce errors, automating this process can bring benefits to many.

While the perception may be that this is cost-prohibitive given that Siemens is a large company and can \”afford it\”, the process has been identified, refined and can be replicated by others. With TTS being the platform of choice for many reps, manufacturers should identify which \”ERP\” platforms their reps are using, especially those that are warehousing, and proactively seek solutions.

And distributors benefit because their reps are in the loop on all orders, which is critical as they are frequently the customer service arm of a manufacturer (unless the manufacturer would like those calls?)

Automating repeatable processes improves profitability for all.

Every warehousing rep should be asking about this service … and manufacturers should be seeking this solution if they care about 1) their reps and 2) reducing costs.

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