Sunday, May 26, 2013

Life as the "EDI" Guy

My vocations in life were two-fold:  several years as a teacher in elementary schools and several as a real estate sales representative. These many varied  experiences...humourous, exciting (and even a few unpleasant) evolved on almost a daily basis.  Hence, it was an ambition of mine to write mini-books about...”Life as a Teacher” and later “Life as a Sales Rep.”

Others might write about their vocations such as Life as a Doctor, Life as a Psychologist, as a Nurse, Factory Worker, Dentist, Carpenter, Architect, Lawyer, Engineer, etc.  These I would assemble and have printed for reader enjoyment. 

Recently a family relative wrote the ensuing article concerning inside knowledge
about specialized computer technicians...which I happily share with you.

I once read a computer book that “Assembly Language” was a 'black art'
suited only to hackers and wizards.

While Assembly Language doesn't show up much these days
(I myself haven't had use for it in over 15 years),
the term is rather novel.

I work as an EDI Specialist, and quite often, given its cryptic-looking nature, EDI is thought of as a 'black art'.  All too often, even in major companies, EDI is delegated to one specialist who is known as the “EDI GUY”. Sometimes such a job is known as a “lone wolf”.

And typically, this specialist has absolute power over the server and data under his control.  Companies typically forget just how much highly sensitive data is at the mercy of the EDI Guy.  Not only does the EDI Guy have access to all their Purchase Orders, all their invoices, all their Shipment Manifests, which includes their main customers/supplier base, but if it is Health Insurance EDI, he's got arbitrary access to claimant's health care records.  (No wonder there are strict privacy laws for this!)

One firm where I used to work wanted to get an archive of all their production data for the past year on a dvd.  I said to them, “You do understand what you are asking for:  you need to keep that data encrypted, or in a very safe place.” When I handed them  an unencrypted dvd,  I stated to them, “Think of this as 'life blood'.  Critical information about your main supplier base and your purchasing deals, all of your invoices and even payment transaction information is on this dvd.  An unscrupulous competitor would pay very handsomely for a copy of this dvd.”

And the thing is, it's a difficult thing even for a well-meaning company to police.  Not only does the EDI Guy have free access to all this information, but he knows how to interpret it and is responsible for translating it to alternate formats.

Because of the high cost of trying to maintain controls and the tremendous breakdown of efficiency that such controls would impose, the most practical solution is just to give the EDI Guy absolute trust.  Oh, there are privacy and security contracts that he signs, of course, but that is just a legal threat for retaliation.  It offers no protection if said person is determined to compromise the system.  So, I often say that the EDI Guy has to be one of the most trusted people in the IT department.

On the up-side, it is just data in a computer, but it can have tremendous value to the party using it.

I had a situation in a job a while back where payment transactions to a bank in Hong Kong were held up because some encryption keys were soon to expire, and the new keys were not compatible with the bank at first; it took a few day to figure out what needed to be corrected.  But the payments were needed to pay Chinese New Year bonuses to factory workers, who badly needed them. I got online very late at night with the data people in Hong Kong and the off-shore support team in India whereby we temporarily switched the keys back  for an hour to get the critical transactions over, holding up other partners in a harmless retry state.  They were so thrilled that they got their payments out on time.  And that's where you stop to think of what a wide-spread blessing a bit of system manipulation can do.  Or on the down-side, what chaos it can cause.  Now if the system had been over-policed with controls, that might not have been possible.  All too often, an IT Admin has to jerry-rig something to get around a temporary problem.

Now I'm looking at an opportunity to finally work on Health Care Claims EDI.  I'm willing to do health care data, but I wouldn't  touch the biological aspects of it.

I figured that if I was going to do  health care, (and I hate biology), I would be a veterinarian.  Animals don't have all the gross self-imposed problems that people do, unless people have done something gross to them.  If I was going to work on people, I would be a pediatrician.  I would rather work on kids, who for the most part are not as polluted as adults.  For now, I'll try to get my feet wet with all the icky data.

“Pearl of Wisdom”
(from Dale Carnegie)
“There are four ways and only four ways
in which we have contact with the world.
We are evaluated and classified by four contacts:
what we we look...what we we say it!

Merle Baird-Kerr...written October 23, 2012
Comments welcome...scroll down...may sign as “anonymous”

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