A press briefing designed to plug the forthcoming UK electronic data interchange industry’s EDI ’90 conference was perhaps not the place to expect one of EDI’s major proponents brand the technology as over-hyped and poorly positioned, characterised by a lack of imagination and in some areas not even off the ground, but these were precisely the terms used by Colin Osborne, DEC’s European marketing manager to describe the current state of affairs. Osborne is one of the more interesting speakers on EDI, simply because he cares to avoid the kind of platitudes that abound in industry that has vast potential but has seen limited and patchy uptake. As for the likelihood of completely paperless trading, which has become the somewhat ambitious synonym for EDI, Osborne snorts that there won’t be a paperless office until I’m in my box. Why is it that only 2m EDI messages are relayed every month, against the 1.2m a day handled by the international financial trading network Swift? Osborne reckons that while the actual setting up and running of an EDI system are relatively easy, the difficulty is in scrambling through the morass of EDI procedures to provide the right applications and connections. In the search for the right applications for EDI, Osborne has landed on the transfer of technical data – for example, between several companies involved in complex engineering projects – as being the real money-spinner, provided the EDI standards issue is resolved; trade applications of EDI will meanwhile become more and more linked to the process of electronic funds transfer. With the announcement of its DEC/EDI service last year (CI No 1,295), which aims to provide EDI products, services and consultancy without supplying the network itself, DEC can afford to stand back slightly and be content to supply EDI as part of a number of paper-based transfer data facilities; the three other EDI suppliers at the briefing were more keen to put across the standard EDI line (that of a technology just waiting to explode into life), presumably because all three have a network they are intending to use for EDI, but a note of humility was nonetheless detectable in their presentations. Phil Coathup, head of global messaging services at AT&T Istel, made allusion to the possibility that if the international EDI standard, EDIFACT, and the open systems interconnection X400 messaging specification become widespread this could spell the end of the Edict EDI protocol used by Istel; Coathup naturally predicted that this would not be the case, but said instead it would have the effect of opening up the market so that AT&T Istel could earn a modest crust as a value-added network supplier. IBM’s EDI solution manager David McCluny said that as far the IBM Information Network-based EDI service was concerned, it was a matter of IBM’s own departments taking the EDI medicine first – this was already happening, with many of its manufacturing departments talking to suppliers through EDI, with the aim being to use EDI for 60% of common business applications by 1994. Finally, INS’ John Jenkins argued that EDI is taking off in some sectors – for example in the retail industry where Marks & Spencers has been particularly bold in using the technology, but stated that so far, the EDI industry has only realised 1% of its total potential. For those that need advance warning, the EDI ’90 conference will take place at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre from October 30 to November 1.