Electronic data interchange (EDI) is the concept of businesses electronically communicating information that was traditionally communicated on paper, such as purchase orders and invoices. Technical standards for EDI exist to facilitate parties transacting such instruments without having to make special arrangements.
EDI has existed at least since the early 70s, and there are many EDI standards (including X12, EDIFACT, ODETTE, etc.), some of which address the needs of specific industries or regions. It also refers specifically to a family of standards. In 1996, the National Institute of Standards and Technology defined electronic data interchange as "the computer-to-computer interchange of strictly formatted messages that represent documents other than monetary instruments. EDI implies a sequence of messages between two parties, either of whom may serve as originator or recipient. The formatted data representing the documents may be transmitted from originator to recipient via telecommunications or physically transported on electronic storage media." It distinguished mere electronic communication or data exchange, specifying that "in EDI, the usual processing of received messages is by computer only. Human intervention in the processing of a received message is typically intended only for error conditions, for quality review, and for special situations. For example, the transmission of binary or textual data is not EDI as defined here unless the data are treated as one or more data elements of an EDI message and are not normally intended for human interpretation as part of on-line data processing." In short, EDI can be defined as the transfer of structured data, by agreed message standards, from one computer system to another without human intervention.
Like many other early information technologies, EDI was inspired by developments in military logistics. The complexity of the 1948 Berlin airlift required the development of concepts and methods to exchange, sometimes over a 300 baud teletype modem, vast quantities of data and information about transported goods. These initial concepts later shaped the first TDCC (Transportation Data Coordinating Committee) standards in the US. Among the first integrated systems using EDI were Freight Control Systems. One such real-time system was the London Airport Cargo EDP Scheme (LACES) at Heathrow Airport, London, UK, in 1971. Implementing the direct trader input (DTI) method, it allowed forwarding agents to enter information directly into the Customs processing system reducing the time for clearance. The increase of maritime traffic and problems at Customs similar to those experienced at Heathrow Airport led to the implementation of DTI systems in individual ports or group of ports in the 1980s.