What is a Map?

What is a map?  Most would answer that it is a collection of relationships between a source document and a target document.  This implies that the relationships are at the data-item level.  But, isn’t it true that a map, at its essence, is a repository of business knowledge showing the relationship between business elements?

Let’s consider a small company in the United States supporting the Order-To-Cash process.  As the company grows, it realizes that it will greatly benefit from the efficiencies of exchanging EDI (ANSI X12) with its trading partners to process orders, send out shipment notices and submit invoices. So, it implements EDI using X12 documents.

Then, the disruptive business event happens.  The company expands their market penetration into Europe and begins trading with European partners.  But, there is an immediate challenge.  European companies typically do not trade using X12.  The European standard is EDIFACT.  The company now has to accommodate this new standard.  To further complicate matters, customers in the United Kingdom want to exchange EDI using TRADACOMS and EANCOM.  Finally, pushing the EDI team to the brink of desperation are the customers from Asia-Pacific (APAC) that do not use any EDI.  They want to exchange flat-files, XML or even more daunting…spreadsheets.

This scenario would cause great stress in any IT group.  But, let’s think about the challenge from a different perspective.  Going back to the idea that our X12 maps are repositories of business knowledge, can we leverage that knowledge to help us accommodate the business needs of the company’s growth?

The answer is yes.  If we could create relationships between our X12 document structures (schemas) and the new document formats, it is possible to “transform” the actual maps into new maps.  This is exactly what the Migration Assistant in the EXTOL Business Integrator does.  It is far easier to create relationships between two similar documents (X12 850 Purchase Order and EDIFACT ORDERS) than to create actual data maps to move data between two dissimilar data formats.  If a migration tool that could accomplish schema-to-schema migration were available, the challenge shifts to become a mechanical issue and may just require minor adjustments to bring the support for new formats online.  Reducing the complexity of the migration process also speeds time to market and greatly reduces risk because the company is re-using their proven business knowledge.

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