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GS1 - simplifying the supply chain

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From there on, it's a case of those companies that want to make the most of these unique identifiers assigning the product's number associated with the bar code, RFID and/or other physical tag to the appropriate record within applications such as SAP. Then, by ensuring that all electronic transactions include this number in their data - whether it be as a header to an email, a traditional EDI transaction or an XML transaction - commonality of product identification is guaranteed. On dealing with the data, it is relatively easy to split out the GTIN and know exactly what item the transaction covers.

Supply chains are easier, tracking is easier. Costs can be driven out of the supply chain, and suppliers, user companies and consumers should all be happy.

Is there a downside? Certainly. Research by Quocirca for GXS (a solution provider member of GS1 UK) shows that one of the main reasons behind low adoption of electronic data exchange is not that it's too expensive or that standardisation hasn't happened, but that there are just too many standards to support.

GS1 is creating yet more standards (mainly around XML, but also new bar codes that take up less room, called the Reduced Space Symbology (RSS) system - nothing to do with Really Simple Syndication).

Although these standards are being driven by GS1's membership, the problem here is that new standards rarely replace the old, and the big problem for GS1 will be in driving adoption and persuading people to rapidly move to the new while minimising the continued use of the old, while managing to maintain synergies with existing and emerging business to business transaction systems, such as UN/EDIFACT, ASC X12 and so on, while also ensuring integration and usability within the XML replacements/enhancements coming through from the bodies that own these standards.

GS1 has not been massively successful here in the past - there are six distinct extant bar code versions (nominally covering different needs, but with a degree of overlap), as well as others that use different approaches.

However, GS1 has the support of the major retailers around the world - the likes of Walmart, Tesco, Sainsbury's and so on - as well as the support of rafts of smaller companies that see standardisation and ease of electronic transactions as a means to be more effective. Other verticals are also seeing the benefits - healthcare is looking at how to use a different type of key to a GTINs - Global Location Numbers, or GLNs, can be used to track not only items of kit within a hospital, but also patients. Matching the GLN against a patient's records can then help in ensuring the patient gets the right medication.

GS1 seems to be moving in the right direction, and should move rapidly with the support it has. However, many smaller suppliers are unaware of GS1, and merrily devise their own numerical identifiers for their products, which then have to be manually promulgated to customers, who may just decide not to deal with a supplier who does not have standard identifiers.

The cost of membership of GS1 is low (averages a few hundred pounds) and GS1 provides an increasing amount of on-line value to its members. To ensure that you can benefit from this community, I'd advise joining - you could find that GS1 enables you to transact business on a grander scale.

Copyright © 2006, Quocirca

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