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AS2 Processing for EDI

Many companies have been thrust into the world of AS2 (Applicability Statement 2) in much the same way they were compelled to implement Electronic Data Interchange (EDI): they got a mandate from a customer or other business partner requiring them to implement by a given deadline. Created in 2002 (replacing AS1), AS2 is one of the most popular methods of transporting data, especially EDI data, securely and reliably over the Internet. It has grown rapidly due to requirements from major players in the retail and consumer goods industries. Walmart became well known for EDI via AS2, requiring their suppliers to use the AS2 protocol. Other major players such as Amazon, Target, Lowe’s, and many others followed suit.

Even if you’re considering AS2 because of a mandate, it’s a secure Internet data transmission standard process that eliminates the cost of transmitting data through a Value Added Network (VAN) so it is a worthwhile investment. Widespread adoption of AS2 processing has already eliminated or reduced the costly middleman (the VAN) for thousands of businesses and that trend is continuing.

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Overview

AS2 refers to the security protocols for sending data securely via the Internet (using HTTPS). Various software packages are available to handle the encryption, communication, and receipt verification required by this standard protocol. The Drummond Group  assures interoperability among the various software packages through certification of AS2 packages.

The AS2 specification solely describes the secure transmittal of EDI in batch mode or any other data over the Internet using HTTPS, avoiding the expense of traditional direct connections and the cost inherent in a VAN service. It is a specification for securing and transporting data, not for validating or processing the data. The transported data is then dispatched to the appropriate processor based upon its content-type. Therefore, an EDI translator will still be needed to process the “raw EDI” data. Rather than sending/receiving data via a VAN, the data would be sent/received via the Internet in accordance with AS2 security features and imported/exported into the user’s application system. With AS2 you get a status message called an MDN (Message Disposition Notification). The AS2 places the message in an envelope, enabling it to be sent via the internet. Once the message it sent, the AS2 returns an MDN telling you if the document was successfully, or unsuccessfully, extracted from the envelope.

Any type of data can be exchanged using AS2, including traditional EDI documents, XML, flat files, spreadsheets, and CAD/CAM data. AS2 is widely used in the retail industry and has become a favored communications protocol.

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Timing

While meeting the requirements of a key trading partner may be the initial motivation behind an AS2 implementation, companies should consider the cost savings as well. The more trading partner relationships, and therefore traffic, that a company can move to AS2, the greater the VAN savings will be, and the faster the payback on the AS2 solution. With the costs of transmitting additional data reduced to nothing, it pays to see if exchanging larger data files makes sense. Manufacturing schedules and point of sale data can be securely transmitted in seconds for no additional cost.

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Benefits

As mentioned, a long-term benefit in using AS2 is to significantly reduce, and in some cases eliminate, the traditional communication costs associated with VANs. A secondary benefit is in the decreased “turn-around” time for business transactions. Traditional EDI is “batch” processed in that messages are grouped together and sent/received at intervals throughout the day. Additional benefits include:

  • Cost savings are realized as AS2 reduces the cost of transactions associated with VANs.
  • AS2 allows businesses to implement with partners worldwide that have little EDI infrastructure, allowing you to extend EDI to more partners.
  • Saves time by eliminating manual processes.
  • AS2 is universal, established, secure and tested and accepted by companies worldwide.
  • There is no limitations on transaction sizes via the web and AS2 includes features to manage large transfers.
  • Minimal downtime: if your server stays up, the AS2 stays up.
  • AS2 can transport any type of document. The most common are EDI X12, EDIFACT and XML.

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Configuration Services

Setting and testing the first few trading partners should be done carefully to eliminate security risks. For example, the firewall administrator needs to approve and open the chosen port. Then, the exchange of certificates must be timed properly so that orders are not lost.

After AS2 has been in operation for several weeks, the process can be automated to eliminate daily checking. This includes setting error messages for expired certificates and training the firewall administrator to avoid accidental closures and I.P. address changes.

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Product Notes

Prospective buyers are encouraged to negotiate the purchase of AS2 software. Calculating the cost for a medium sized company with 10 trading partners can yield a startling total cost. Some even regard a test mailbox as a separate trading partner. Data Communication Solutions (DCS) recommends renegotiating as growth is encountered.

DCS can help you decide what AS2 system is best for you. Many EDI translators have AS2 capabilities built-in, either inherently or with an additional license. There are also standalone AS2 software options that will integrate with any existing system.

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Conclusion

DCS’ experience with AS2 products tells us they’re secure and a good investment. The Drummond Group certification program helped to ensure this. However, the certification program does not test ease of installation or technical support. Connections to the EDI system can be tricky to install and experienced assistance eliminates the headaches of installation and configuration.

DCS provides remote support for your AS2 utility. We can help you resolve irritating problems such as ports, certificates, and dynamic I.P. addresses while ensuring firewall integrity.

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Data Communication Solutions

If you’re looking for an EDI consulting firm with a decades-long record of helping businesses succeed, look no further than DCS. Since 1991, our team of experienced and knowledgeable EDI specialists has been providing services such as development, managed services, support and training for a variety of EDI systems and industries. Check out our list of clients to see the hundreds of companies we’ve worked with and consider reading some of our case studies to learn how we help organizations find the best EDI solutions. To learn more about how we can help your business, contact us today!

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