October 24, 2007

Think Beyond Data Synchronization

Innovators Treat Product Information as a Strategic Asset


Data synchronization is the foundation of e-commerce. It ensures that all partners in the supply chain have access to accurate, timely and usable business information that supports inventory management, order fulfillment, and warehouse operations. When a data component changes, that change is reflected in the information that all supply chain partners receive.


Data synchronization is keeping information/data in two or more computer or operating systems up-to-date on a continuous basis so that each repository contains the identical information. Sounds simple but there are several components that must be understood to ensure business information is synchronized between trading partners.


1.Standards – The foundation for exchanging business information and e-commerce is the standard by which information should be managed, formatted and delivered. In the electrical industry the standard that was developed by manufacturers and distributors is the Product Descriptor Data or PDD. The PDD was built around an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Accredited Standards Committee (ASC) X12 EDI 832 Price Sales Catalog. The EDI 832 Price Sales Catalog is used to report vendor product data to a Trading Partner for ordering purposes.

There are four major functions of the Price Sales Catalog:


  • U.P.C. Catalog Operation
  • Traditional Vendor’s Catalog
  • Item Setup and Maintenance
  • Sales Price Communication


In addition to the PDD the electrical industry also has a flat file data standard called EZView/PIPE. The EZView/PIPE standard was created to enable suppliers that did not have the capability to format an EDI 832 Price Sales Catalog.


Without the PDD and EZView/PIPE standards, business information would be exchanged between trading partners in multiple supplier formats, most likely created based on what the manufacturer has set up in their own operating system. Third party data content companies also have their own information format, which has become in some instances a defacto standard. Industry data standards represent the best option because they are public (not proprietary) standards and represent the consensus of the trading partner community.


2.Accountability – In the information age, the quality and consistency of a company’s business information is paramount. Whether it is the CIO or another staff, someone should be charged with defining and executing the company’s (applies to manufacturers and distributors) data quality policy at the highest level. In short, the individual in charge should provide visible leadership by clearly articulating the business purposes and strategy for the data quality effort. The biggest challenge here would be to keep senior management’s commitment to quality at a level that’s consistent and effective, there by raising the visibility and importance of corporate data as a “product”.


3.Internal Data Synchronization – How many product and price file information data bases does your company have? In many cases suppliers have multiple product databases and data owners managing the information. Would you use the same approach with your customer contact information? Internal data synchronization is the comprehensive execution of getting to a single version of information truth for each product using the industry standard. When any product information element is accessed − such as a part number or dimensions − anywhere within the enterprise, it needs to consistently have the same correct value. Your company’s product information must be complete, accurate and up to date before you share it and synchronize it with your trading partners. Whether you are large, medium or small manufacturer or distributor implementing an internal product information management and data synchronization program will save your company money, improve customer service and increase sales revenue.


4.External Data Synchronization – the process of ensuring that relevant business information is communicated between two trading partners. External Data Synchronization relies upon an agreed upon transfer protocol between trading partners and is dependent on accurate, up-to-date and usable product information. In a complex environment with many ERP systems and disparate data stores, external data synchronization should be facilitated through a delivery mechanism or service that enables receipt of industry standardized information on a continuous basis (24×7) and in a format that fits the receiver’s operating system. While other data transfer methods such as CD, Email, 3rd party content companies or websites are commonly used for transferring business information they require more hands on work and data formatting and are not typically delivering information 24×7 and may be delivering the information in a variety of formats requiring additional work by the receiving trading partner.


5.Data Validation – Whether it is the wholesale or retail channel business information needs to be validated against the agreed upon standards and business rules created for that channel. Data Validation can be preferred by the individual trading partner that receives the information directly from their supplier partner or they can rely on built in data validation processes that are in place with a data warehouse or 3rd party data content provider. The key is that when data is assessed against industry standards and rules there must be a means to provide feedback to the sender as well as the receiver on the quality of the data as soon as possible. This ensures that corrective action is taken by the supplier to eliminate the data errors and correct their master file and that the receiver is not loading incorrect information that will eventually result in a order that has to be reconciled.


6.Data Match – Over time the business information that the distributor or buyer has in its operating system can become contaminated. This can be caused by not updating files in a timely manner or mixing data files when switching from one data source/provider to another. In most cases the buyer or distributor puts the onus on the supplier to make the correction if an order is placed with out of date or incorrect data. Data matching involves bringing together data from different sources and comparing it and then taking specific steps to correct the mismatched information. Data Matching could be completed by a distributor but the most cost effective and timely method to complete a thorough data match and analysis is through an outside provider such as Datagility. In the event that the data match is undertaken by the distributor or buyer they should ensure that they use a common/key identifier such as a GTIN/UPC code, to complete the matching process. When item master files are identical then the order management process is error free resulting in the correct order shipped on time. Productivity increases, operating costs are lowered and sales increased because the trading partners are IN SYNC.


Information has replaced inventory as the most important strategic asset. The companies that can perform at the speed of information and synchronize business information with their trading partners will be the winners.


By: Mike Rioux, President, IDEA