EDI Outsourcing Helps Eagle Family Foods Focus on Internal Business

When food manufacturer Eagle Family Foods, Inc., best known for its Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk, was formed in 1998, it needed to implement its business on PeopleSoft ERP software. In order to do that aggressively and rapidly before its busy holiday season, the company realized it needed an experienced partner to help with the electronic data interchange (EDI) applications.

Since Eagle Family Foods was already using a Gentran EDI translator from Sterling Commerce, it made logical sense to choose Sterling Commerce for its EDI outsourcing as well.

Why Eagle Chose Sterling for EDI Outsourcing

“Sterling Commerce also has a wealth of knowledge in the area of communications and the mapping requirements specified by our customers in the grocery industry,” said Anne Kaiser, program manager responsible for new projects and daily support for all EDI and business applications within PeopleSoft at the company’s Gahanna, Ohio headquarters. Sterling Commerce has years of experience in supporting the operation of mission-critical electronic commerce.

Eagle Family Foods worked closely with Sterling Commerce to set up a reconciliation process to ensure the accuracy of all inbound and outbound transmissions. This all happened within a three-month period.

“We strive to minimize any down time with our business processes specifically for our EDI activity,” Kaiser noted. The project spanned the months of March, April and May in order to finish before the busy holiday time. “A lot of customers do forward buying,” Kaiser explained, starting as early as June and July, even though Eagle Family Foods doesn’t ship its products until September, October and November. Because Eagle Family Foods’ electronic commerce is seasonal, its EDI service needed to be reliable, accurate and flexible.

Eagle Family Foods went through several significant changes in the last five to six years, Kaiser said, divesting product lines and acquiring new business. Along with Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk, the company now offers Kava acid-neutralized coffee, Borden EggNog and None Such mincemeat. In addition, the company recently came out with baking kits to make fudge, cheesecake, key lime pie, peanut butter bars, “magic cookie bars” and more.

As a result of these organizational changes, the company had downsized its information systems group. This factor played a key role in the decision to outsource its EDI to Sterling Commerce. The electronic commerce system became more mature, Kaiser explained, so there were not a lot of new enhancements that needed to be done. Since there was not a significant knowledge base among the information systems employees on board, the company deemed it best to turn that aspect of its business over to someone who knew EDI. “It just made sense,” Kaiser said.

The EDI Outsourcing Transition

So Eagle Family Foods provided the application data and turned over the specifications to Sterling Commerce to do the mapping. Eagle Family Foods turned over all of its maps and profile setups to Sterling Commerce with a minimal transition period, and the whole process was completely transparent to the company’s 135 trading partners, according to Kaiser.

The trading partners consist of customers, brokers and third-party warehouses. Eagle Family Foods trades purchase orders and invoices as well as advance ship notices with the customers. With the brokers, the company trades purchase orders, carbon copies of invoices and purchase order acknowledgements. With the warehouses, the company trades orders, order confirmations, replenishment orders, replenishment order confirmations and inventory inquiries, essentially, Kaiser said, “a snapshot of our inventory in their system to we can make sure it marries up to what we have in our system.” (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1: A sample of the documentation Eagle Family Foods provides to its warehouses.
Figure 1. Eagle Family Foods warehouse documentation sample

Eagle Family Foods needed the implementation to be seamless to its trading partners with little or no interruption in the EDI inbound and outbound business document traffic. In order to achieve those goals, Eagle Family Foods worked closely with Sterling Commerce to establish a detailed project plan with specific expectations from both parties. “Constant communication was required with milestones [at] every step of the process,” Kaiser noted.

The goals didn’t change throughout the process. The test data and tools to compare data from one system to the other were all in place. In addition, business users were involved with the testing and with notifying the trading partner community. “All parties stayed on top of their tasks,” Kaiser said. “Milestone meetings were crucial to make sure everyone from Sterling and Eagle Family Foods, Inc. was on the same page.”

Eagle Family Foods has outsourced all of its EDI translation, mapping development and enhancements, new trading partner setups, daily reconciliation, error troubleshooting and communications to Sterling Commerce. “We ftp inbound and outbound application files hourly,” Kaiser said.

The food company sends and receives all PeopleSoft application data. Sterling Commerce is responsible for EDI translation and all communications. “They support a lot of different communications,” Kaiser noted. “We just send them the file; they send it off to the other entity.”

Sterling Commerce also monitors trading partner traffic and handles any modifications to an existing map and/or new versions of maps. The map (Figure 2), Kaiser explained, is taking the PeopleSoft format, such as the data it outputs, and converting it to EDI data, as well as vice versa. Sterling Commerce supports all the maps.

 Figure 1: Requirements for Sterling Commerce to create a map for its EDI outsourcing work.
Figure 2. Mapping requirements.

The EDI Outsourcing Staff

Two individuals at Eagle Family Foods are involved in the outsourcing arrangement, and they interact with one individual at Sterling Commerce who coordinates meeting their requests with various departments. “Our primary contact manages the activities so we do not have to,” Kaiser pointed out. Kaiser is the primary contact at Eagle Family Foods and coordinates all new EDI activity with the trading partners and with Sterling Commerce. This includes new mapping requests, new communication setups, new trading partner setups and missing EDI transmissions.

Eagle Family Foods only monitors exceptions of the system’s daily reconciliations of inbound and outbound transactions. All new requests, data requests and troubleshooting are sent to the Sterling Commerce account manager. “Because we put in systematic reconciliation, I don’t remember a time we lost an order or a document,” Kaiser noted. The system has bells and whistles in place so that if there is a problem, Sterling Commerce looks at it first. “If it’s going to be an extended period of time,” Kaiser added, “they pass that on to me and we can go to manual mode if needed.” However, she pointed out, “We’ve never gone to that point.”

As a result of outsourcing its EDI to Sterling Commerce, Eagle Family Foods has been able to focus on improving and optimizing its internal business applications. In addition, the company has “been able to keep the headcount down in our department while still maintaining system integrity to support our business and to meet our trading partner’s requirements,” Kaiser said.

Closing Advice

The only problem Eagle Family Foods encountered along the way, according to Kaiser, was that a couple of key people at Sterling Commerce were spread thin between other projects in progress for other customers. “We stayed on top the project,” she noted, “but the [people] at Sterling Commerce were not totally dedicated to our project.”

In light of that, Kaiser advises any organization considering outsourcing some aspect of its business to create a project plan that is realistic, gain commitment from all participants and “ensure that this project is everyone’s number one priority.”

Useful Links

Eagle Family Foods, Inc.
http://www.eaglebrand.com/home.asp

The project plan for Eagle Family Foods’ EDI Outsourcing Migration to Sterling Commerce
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The Eagle Foods documentation sample.
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Sterling Commerce
http://www.sterlingcommerce.com/