RealTime IT News

Keeping The GDSN Pool Clean

Retailers are using Internet data exchanges to eliminate the "garbage in, garbage out" syndrome: the use of incorrect or inconsistent product information by trading partners.

UCCNet, operator of one such "electronic data pool," has lined up some of the nation's largest retailers as customers, the company said.

Lawrenceville, N.J.-based UCCNet said Ace Hardware, Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, SUPERVALU, Wal-Mart, and Wegmans Food Market have selected its UCCnet Data Pool Services for electronic data synchronization and exchange.

The retailers said they would support the standards of the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) and encourage their suppliers to use certified GDSN services as well.

The GDSN, which went live last summer, is a standards-based global Internet-based network that lets buyers and sellers reliably exchange information about products. To use the GDSN, members subscribe to a certified "data pool" that connects to a centralized global registry, called the GS1 Global Registry. The GDSN thereby lets trading partners exchange information on a near-real-time basis.

"Data synchronization has broad multiple-industry support in a variety of verticals," said UCCNet spokesman Jeff Oddo. He said businesses within such industries as grocery, general merchandise, hardware, pharmaceuticals and office supplies have begun to use the data standard.

However, most are far from full implementation, according to Greg Lenard, director of inventory control for Ace Hardware. He said Ace is exchanging electronic data about approximately 10 percent of the roughly 65,000 items it warehouses." For GSDN, we're simply saying we subscribe to the standard, and we're asking all our suppliers to comply with the standard," he said.

UCCNet, which claims around 4,000 customers, is a subsidiary of the Uniform Code Council, which was instrumental in driving adoption of the bar code in the 1970s. Competitive data pools include Transora and Click Commerce .

Proponents expect the GDSN to improve data integrity and help companies reduce the costs of inaccurate supply chain information.

The GSDN and the EPC Network are complementary, two stepping-stones to the Nivrana of real-time retail. In May 2004, VeriSign demonstrated a link between EPC Network data and the GDSN.

While the GSDN aims to let trading partners clean up their product data and make sure it matches with their partners, the EPC Network, being managed by VeriSign will allow the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track the movement of individual items through the supply chain.

Products will bear RFID tags encoded with numbers that correspond to product attribute information stored in the trading partners' databases, so that, for example, both the manufacturer and the retailer can match the code and know where in the supply chain that item is.

However, Oddo said, if the data in the trading partners' systems don't match, the system breaks down. "Without data synch, all RFID will allow you to exchange bad data instantaneously," he said.

While electronic data exchange between partners is all well and good, Yankee Group on Thursday warned companies that internal data synch is just as important -- and just as elusive.

Yankee's 2005 Product Information Management (PIM) study concluded that PIM is a strategic investment for enterprise management that can lead to solid return on investment.

"GDSN is talking about keeping data clean externally. But internally, you can have bad data between divisions, for example, between marketing and finance and manufacturing," said report author Kosin Huang. "If you don't keep it clean inside, you're going to perpetuate this problem outside."

"PIM is a collaborative foundation for coordinating a company's business processes that touch product data, which is relevant for multiple parts of an organization," she wrote in the report.

Yankee encouraged companies that supply retailers to adopt PIM software and adjust business processes, following a survey of companies in 28 categories that used PIM technology.

The survey found 63 percent of respondents increased sales due to better relationships with retailers. Sixty percent reduced the time clerks or warehouse personnel spent correcting errors, and 59 percent said inventory levels were reduced through better phasing in and out of promotional, seasonal, or "roll-over" SKUs.

Huang said doing it right entails a solution that includes not only cleaning and normalizing internal data synchronization but also workflow management, automated data transformation and automatic upload of data to the global registry.

"If you invested in a solution that did these things, and did some change management around your processes," she said, "then you will have a good infrastructure to support product information that's accurate."