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This manufacturing company is a supplier to a few heavy truck makers, so it has to use EDI for things like electronic invoices and shipping paperwork. But it only has a shoestring EDI budget, according to a pilot fish working there.

"That results in a lot of manual processing and data entry," says fish. "When a new clerk took over some of these responsibilities, the error rate to the customer went up and the customer took issue with this."

Result: An urgent request to the overtaxed IT staff, which whips up a fix in which the invoicing program generates a file that's then manipulated into something that can be imported into the EDI system. It's a kludge, but at least it's less manual.

After testing with a few transactions, the system goes live, and all seems to go well. But the next day the customer calls: Why haven't certain shipments been sent?

It turns out the EDI transactions are being accepted by the customer but not processed through the customer's system. Thus, there's no failure notice to fish's company, and no notice of shipment making it to the customer's system.

The failed EDI transactions are resent manually, but the same thing keeps happening over the next few days. IT checks with the clerk, who confirms she's printing and verifying the data when it gets to the EDI system. IT figures somehow the kludge program is somehow mangling control totals -- but it's really simple code, so that should be impossible.

"That same day, three more transactions failed," fish says. "I pulled up each of the three failures on the EDI system and printed them out, and saw something immediately: Each of the invoices had at least ten lines, but the shipping notices only had eight lines each."

So the issue isn't the control totals -- for some reason, lines are being dropped when the shipping notices are being imported into the EDI system from the kludge program.

Fish tells the clerk there are three failures that she will have to manually redo. Clerk says, "I think there were three I got error messages on in EDI today. I wonder if those were the same ones." She compares notes with fish. They are.

Why didn't you notice the missing lines? fish asks. Clerk's response: "I really only looked at the invoice information when I printed them."

Grumbles fish, "It took all I had to not choke her and point out to her that if invoices were working and ship notices were having issues, maybe that was the wrong focus for her detailed checks."

You don't need EDI to send a story to Sharky. Just email your true tail of IT life to me at sharky@computerworld.com. You'll score a sharp Shark shirt if I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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