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Generally speaking, EDI is considered to be a technical representation of a business conversation between two entities, either internal or external. Note, there is a perception that "EDI" consists of the entire electronic data interchange paradigm, including the transmission, message flow, document format, and software used to interpret the documents. EDI is considered to describe the rigorously standardized format of electronic documents.
There are four major sets of EDI standards:
The UN-recommended UN/EDIFACT is the only international standard and is predominant outside of North America.
The US standard ANSI ASC X12 (X12) is predominant in North America.
The TRADACOMS standard developed by the ANA (Article Numbering Association) is predominant in the UK retail industry.
The ODETTE standard used within the European automotive industry
All of these standards first appeared in the early to mid 1980s. The standards prescribe the formats, character sets, and data elements used in the exchange of business documents and forms. The complete X12 Document List includes all major business documents, including purchase orders (called "ORDERS" in UN/EDIFACT and an "850" in X12) and invoices (called "INVOIC" in UN/EDIFACT and an "810" in X12).
The EDI standard says which pieces of information are mandatory for a particular document, which pieces are optional and give the rules for the structure of the document. The standards are like building codes. Just as two kitchens can be built "to code" but look completely different, two EDI documents can follow the same standard and contain different sets of information. For example a food company may indicate a product's expiration date while a clothing manufacturer would choose to send color and size information.
Standards are generally updated each year.
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