Ready or not, the age of electronic partnering has arrived. For many small businesses, that will mean replacing conventional order-taking and invoicing with electronic data interchange (EDI), which hooks computers together via telephone lines to swap information. Large retailers, manufacturers, and the U.S. government are pushing EDI hard because they can save millions of dollars processing orders.

Being prepared can make the difference between being a coveted electronic partner and being an EDI casualty. Here are three tips for going EDI:

  1. Don't wait. Talk to customers, and see what others in your industry are doing. Don't be caught off guard with a letter from a customer that says it's either EDI or good-bye.
  2. Get help. If you're having trouble figuring out how to go online, consider hiring a consultant. The EDI World Institute (514-288-3555) can point you to a consultant in your area. Several publications can help you learn more about EDI: The Why EDI Guide for Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises and EDI Window (514-288-3555), EDI Forum: The Journal of Electronic Commerce (708-848-0135), and EDI News (301-424-3338). To go online with the federal government, contact the Federal Electronic Commerce Acquisition Program Management Office (703-681-0364/9) and the Department of Defense Electronic Commerce Information Center (800-EDI-3414).
  3. Leverage your EDI investment. Once you're online with one customer, adding others shouldn't be difficult or expensive. And EDI capability will help you attract new business.