Spreading the Word on EDI: Interest in Electronic Data Interchange Grows as NAA Develops Formats, Guidelines; Groups Pursue Pilot Projects

Article excerpt

The goal of electronic interchange of ad data is to "make newspapers easier for advertisers to deal with," said John Iobst, director of advanced computer science at the Newspaper Association of America.

The NAA is working to create its own industry-specific version of the electronic data interchange standard (EDI), which amounts to a "consistent interface between machines," using proprietary internal formats only when going into and coming out of the interchange. All systems, therefore, will be able to communicate in a universally recognizable format while preserving their familiar formats for in-house use.

Addressing an overflow crowd of about 300 at the June ANPA/TEC in Atlanta, Iobst led a workshop panel on EDI at newspapers. Iobst defined the simple idea that depends on a complex set of details as "a convention prescribing a standard syntax for transmission of commercial data between computers of trading partners ."

It means that regardless of parties' communications systems, computers or application software, the outcome of all computer transmissions (even hand delivery or fax) will be specific information presented in a common format.

At an ANPA-sponsored conference in February, David G.B. Lindsay, vice president of the Apalachicola (Fla.) Times and former chairman of ANPA's EDI task force, said the standard removes nonproductive costs from newspaper advertising.

He listed several benefits of standardized data exchange. EDI can handle complex indirect transactions carried out through an advertiser's agency and a paper's rep firm. It will help realize the idea of one-order, one-bill. All parties gain a competitive edge because a newspaper buy becomes easier, the process is faster and the work less, operator errors and miscommunications are fewer, media planning can be faster, and local customization is possible.

More generally, an advertiser will be able to deal with all newspapers in the same manner, knowing that each newspaper will understand each communication or quickly inform an advertiser that it does not. Newspapers, however, may have to alter their procedures and modify their systems to properly work with the information needed to exploit EDI.

EDI documents will supply all identification (groups, businesses, departments, persons, places) and commercial data (rates, dates and placement) already required in oral and written transactions and will do so in much the same sequence. It will also be able to take into account different products from the same publishing company (e.g., daily editions, special sections, Sunday magazines, tv program booklets or TMC products.)

Though EDI covers advertising for newspapers, it could also serve their communications with suppliers. It is, however, very broad and already in use by manufacturers, retailers, insurers and the U.S. government-which Iobst identified as a latecomer to EDI but an important player in achieving its widespread use.

U.S. and international standards are expected to merge in several years, according to Lindsay. The EMBARC system used by papermakers is a similar process that is expected to become a part of EDI, he said.

Because many countries now use the conventions embodied in the X12 format in the United States, NAA works within that public format. It was originated by the banking industry and adopted for business communications by the American National Standards Institute.

Almost two inches thick, the volume that specifies EDI reflects the detail required to standardize data exchange. (An electronic copy of the standard is available, but EDI products vendors and users may not use it commercially.) Iobst said that, when complete, the newspaper-specific version of EDI will be twice the length of the general EDI standard. The version is being compiled in the NAA's "Newspapers and Advertising Conventions and Implementation Guidelines."

Joining the former American Newspaper Publishers Association in developing a newspaper advertising subset for EDI were the marketing and financial fraternal organizations that are now merged into the NAA, as well as vendors, advertisers, individual newspapers and newspaper groups, two of which are involved in EDI pilot projects. …

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