In 1979, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) chartered the Accredited Standards Committee (ASC) X12 to create a set of standards to facilitate the electronic exchange of business information. These standards define the data formats and encoding rules required for a multitude of business transactions, including order placement and processing, shipping and receiving, invoicing, payment, and many others. A sampling of common business functions with example X12 transaction sets is provided in the following table:

Business Function Document Set
Purchasing Purchase Order 850
Receivables Lockbox Remit 823
Payables Invoice 810
Distribution Advanced Ship Notice 856

At this time, the complete table is not available.  Contact us directly for a free "pocket guide" of X12 document sets.

The work of the ASC X12 is conducted primarily by a series of subcommittees whose major function is to develop new and maintain existing X12 standards. The development and maintenance work performed by the X12 subcommittees is submitted to ANSI for national review approximately every 3 years. After successful review, ANSI publishes the X12 standards.

Due to the lengthy review and publication process, the Data Interchange Standards Association (DISA), the ASC X12 Secretariat, publishes the entire set of X12 standards annually in a document called an X12 release. The release includes the latest ANSI approved standards and new draft standards approved by the ASC X12 during that year. These releases are identified by a six digit code. The first three digits represent the version number (assigned by ANSI). The fourth and fifth digits represent the release number, and the last digit represents the sub-release number. For example, X12 Version 3, Release 5 is represented by the code 003050 (pronounced thirty fifty).

The X12 standards were developed independent of other EDI initiatives. For example, as the first X12 standards were being deployed in North America, the European community was implementing its EDI standard: the Guidelines on Trade Data Interchange (GTDI). In an effort to create a single international EDI syntax, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE) Working Party on Facilitation of International Trade Procedures (WP.4) drew concepts from both X12 and GTDI to create the UN/EDIFACT family of standards. The EDIFACT syntax was adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 1987.

The X12 and EDIFACT standards perform equivalent functions (e.g., both define a purchase order). Although X12 is more mature and provides functions not present in EDIFACT (e.g., acknowledgments, security), many of these functions are under development in the EDIFACT organization.

The differences between X12 and EDIFACT reside in their underlying structures. There is not a one-to-one correspondence between the X12 and EDIFACT data elements, and often, multiple X12 data elements are needed to represent one EDIFACT data element.

The differences in the X12 and EDIFACT syntaxes make interoperation impractical, if not impossible. Rather than attempt technical harmonization between the standards, the ASC X12 has adopted the EDIFACT syntax and standards. This means that the ASC X12 will develop standards based on the EDIFACT syntax.

Many X12 users view switching standards as a cost with little financial return. To appease these users, the ASC X12 committee voted (as of February, 1995) to continue the development of X12 standards (i.e., develop both EDIFACT and X12 standards), and to bring this issue to vote every 3 years. Thus, the vote to continue the development of the X12 standards was taken again in 1998, next in 2001 and so forth.

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