In this article we present three ways in which companies can use SAP PI or SAP PO to implement electronic data interchange (EDI) and message exchange automation across a supply chain:
- Managing EDI with SAP PI or SAP PO internally yourself
- Installing a local EDI converter and connecting to SAP PI or SAP PO
- Outsourcing to a fully managed EDI service provider
We will show you which EDI functionalities you can implement in your company with the respective solution and which questions decision-makers can use to help themselves in choosing the right solution.
EDI and B2B integration with SAP PI or SAP PO – What do I need to know?
SAP Process Integration (SAP PI) is a comprehensive software component that enables data exchange between the SAP system and internal and external systems. SAP PI uses various Java-based routing and integration mechanisms as well as various adapters that can be used to implement transport protocols and format conversions.
SAP Process Orchestration (PO) is an SAP PI installation variant (with different license models) that has been enhanced to include functionality in the area of “business process modeling and implementation”. In addition to the classic SAP PI capabilities of message routing, mapping and connectivity, PO also includes parts of SAP Business Process Management and SAP Business Rules Management.
In terms of EDI, the core technical functionalities of SAP PI and SAP PO are:
Under Connectivity, SAP PI offers a range of adapters that can be used to convert various message transport protocols. These include many protocols that are required for electronic message exchange with external partners, such as AS2, X.400, OFTP2, SFTP, RESTful Web Services, and so on. Mappings can be used to implement translations between SAP internal formats (for example, IDoc) and external EDI formats such as EDIFACT, XML, ANSI ASC X.12, and so on. Mappings can be converted using a graphical editor, based on XSLT, or using a Java program. Routing controls message delivery to different recipients based on information in the message.
All three solutions presented in the same way are based on these core functionalities of SAP PI or SAP PO, but differ essentially in the following factors in EDI operation or in the following questions that the decision-maker can ask himself:
- How much internal EDI capacity (i.e. personnel & EDI expertise) can I use for mapping, routing, 24/7 monitoring, troubleshooting and maintenance of the connections? Do I want to manage EDI completely internally or do I want to relieve my internal teams and outsource EDI?
- Which technical requirements does my EDI solution have to meet? Which document types, protocols, formats and legal requirements regarding electronic invoicing (e.g. XRechnung in Germany or FatturaPA in Italy) do I need for my B2B network?
- What EDI capabilities does my B2B network require? Do I need access to Value Added Networks (VANs)? Do I want or need to connect to Peppol? Do I have suppliers without EDI capabilities that I still want to connect to automated message exchange (with Web EDI?)
- How flexible or scalable do I want to design my EDI solution? Can I rely on a rigid implementation in the long term or do I want to become more resilient and future-proof with regard to the technical requirements?
If you know the answer to all these questions for your company, you will be able to make the right choice for your business. Keeping the questions in mind, we will now look at the three technical approaches for an EDI implementation in SAP PI and SAP PO.
1. Managing EDI with SAP PI or SAP PO internally
SAP PI and SAP PO are extremely complex and extensive software components that allow for internal implementation of some EDI functionalities. According to the point-to-point principle, automated EDI connections to individual partners can be established by appropriately qualified personnel.
However, one of the main challenges during implementation is precisely the complexity of the software. One does not get the proverbial hammer and nail in the hand, but a very extensive toolset. For the independent configuration and the ongoing operation of EDI connections via SAP PI or SAP PO, highly qualified employees with corresponding EDI expertise are therefore required. If smooth EDI operation is to be guaranteed 24/7, these employees must be available on a continuing basis.
Furthermore, not all required EDI functionalities (current and future) may be supported or require the use of additional solutions, as shown in the graphic:
If you want to implement EDI internally purely with SAP PI or SAP PO, you will therefore have to do without some functions (or implement them as a third-party solution), but you will also need highly qualified personnel, EDI know-how and sufficient resources to cope with:
- Mapping and routing of all necessary connections
- Ongoing maintenance of the connection parameters and regular renewal of certificates
- Ongoing maintenance of mapping tables and industry internal practical knowledge about the implementation of special formats (e.g. VDA)
- Ongoing coordination with the B2B partners and procurement of all necessary information (especially in the onboarding process)
- 24/7 monitoring and troubleshooting
Incidentally, those who only want to work with SAP PI have to accept a major restriction – this only allows flat file formats via SFTP/SOAP/REST/HTTP protocols. If you want to use “classic” EDI formats (such as EDIFACT or ANSI ASC X12) and protocols (such as AS2 or X.400), you must have either a special package from a third-party manufacturer or the “B2B Add-on” from SAP – but this is only available with the SAP PO license (even if no other SAP PO functions are required).
The issue of X.400 costs should also be mentioned. If messages have to be transmitted to third-party networks that are subject to charges, these costs can be quite high. As an individual company, often only poor rates are available due to the relatively small amount of data being exchanged.
Internal implementation of EDI with SAP PI and SAP PO offers you a very high degree of functionality and flexibility. However, configuration, operation and maintenance also require the use of appropriate resources, which must be included in the total cost of ownership analysis. These costs must also be taken into account when using a local EDI converter, the option we present next…
2. Installing a local EDI converter and connecting to SAP PI or SAP PO
Another possibility is the acquisition and operation of a local EDI converter, which is connected to SAP PI or SAP PO. This is a software to be installed locally that converts documents from SAP internal IDoc format to partner format and vice versa.
Converter solutions are individually adaptable, but are potentially cost-intensive due to individually payable license costs for various functionalities, formats and upgrades in combination with long-term maintenance contracts. For example, support for protocols such as X.400 or services such as VAN connectivity must be purchased separately.
Local converter solutions must also be operated completely by internal teams, just as in the previous solution (implementing and operating EDI in SAP PI or SAP PO internally). This includes particularly time-consuming processes such as mapping, testing and 24/7 monitoring. This again requires appropriately trained employees.
SAP PI/PO with local EDI converter
It should also be considered that both the software itself and the individual mappings age. In other words, over time new releases of the converter will be published, which do not necessarily allow an upgrade from the existing version and mappings. This results in corresponding migration projects that have to be realised internally or with the help of an external consulting company.
3. Outsourcing to a fully managed EDI service provider
Fully managed EDI is a cloud-based EDI solution where a company is connected to a specialised EDI service provider via a single connection. This service provider then takes over all EDI functions and processes, depending on your company’s requirements.
If your company uses SAP PI or SAP PO, all you need for a successful connection to ecosio as your EDI service provider is the snap ecosio Bridge for SAP and its turnkey integration flows in SAP PI or SAP PO, which was especially created by SNAP Consulting.
Deep EDI Integration in SAP with snap ecosio Bridge for SAP and iFlow/ICO
In this solution the EDI service provider creates and ensures all technically desired EDI prerequisites, such as routing via various protocols, VANs and Peppol or conversion into all common and necessary formats, including legal requirements in the field of e-invoicing. Further, operation, 24/7 monitoring and partner onboarding (including partner communication) are also handled by the service provider.
The deep integration of the EDI functionalities into the SAP system also enables your business department to:
- Jump to the original EDI message for incoming messages, directly in SAP – without need for an extra login
- Jump to the generated EDI message for outgoing messages – again without extra login
- Track the EDI message status directly in SAP by changing the IDoc status of sent EDI messages to status 40 or 41 – depending on whether the recipient received the message or not
- Conduct a full text search of all messages and documents
- Benefit from automatic alerts/notification if messages are incorrect or could not be delivered
Updates, the ongoing certification of protocols and new SAP versions (such as SAP S/4HANA) are easily adopted and supported. Fully managed EDI offers companies the possibility to use all EDI functions without an expiration date – providing maximum EDI efficiency with minimum internal effort.
You now know the three possible technical approaches for implementing EDI on the basis of SAP PI or SAP PO and which criteria and questions you should use to select the most suitable one for your company. Essentially, you need to assess how much capacity you have internally to cope with implementing and operating an EDI solution.
Independent EDI implementation or the use of a local EDI converter enables a company to send and receive EDI messages, but requires a high level of internal effort, and highly qualified personnel. In addition, some functionalities may have to be purchased externally.
Outsourcing to a fully managed EDI service provider offers you all the EDI functionalities available with SAP PI and SAP PO but in a flexible and freely scalable way. The entire effort, from mapping and routing to monitoring and troubleshooting, is taken over by the EDI service provider, relieving internal teams.
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