One of the issues that creates problems for suppliers is making certain all parties along the supply chain have the same information about the same products. The issue may seem trivial, but considering that a manufacturer may have multiple systems tracking its products through its manufacturing process, synchronizing information about what the supplier is selling and what the buyer is buying can easily become confusing.
The emerging technology known as GDSN, or the global data synchronization network, is quickly becoming the preferred way to keep all trading partners on the same page when it's time to place orders.
It's a simple idea: Store product information in a centralized online database, so retailers can access information about the product they want to order, including packing quantities, retail prices, and anything else they need. But delivering what's often called a "single version of the truth" to that database is often a problem for suppliers.
The simple act of producing a wholesale price list frequently raises questions like "Which spreadsheet has the real pricing information?" This happens when the supplier looks at its own sources for product costs and pricing. Most companies maintain more than one system where they record cost, pricing, and marketing information.
For example, the purchasing department uses the company ERP system to generate purchase orders and pay invoices for raw materials. Product management keeps spreadsheets when it conceives of a product that eventually migrates to finished goods. The marketing folks keep multiple iterations of product descriptions and images in documents and files. When it comes time to produce a product pricing sheet, all those components are gathered and combined (usually manually) to create the information that will be presented to the retailer.
But as products change over their lifecycle and the different departments modify their information in their various media, those changes rarely make it to the external presentation the customer is using to make purchase decisions.
Ed Howe of Aligntrac, which provides systems that synchronize internal data and keep the central GDSN updated, explains the technology this way: "We find that the process is ongoing. Once we get the consolidated data from the manufacturer, we then feed the corrected data back to the company's various data systems and help them keep their data up to date."
Catalogue and online retailers are demanding much more than just the price and shipping quantities. The GDSN includes attributes such as product images, text descriptions, and even video clips that retailers can use directly in their catalogues. Manufacturers and suppliers are using the GDSN as a central repository for product data, and they are updating the contents as changes are made or the market demands more and different information.
"GDSN has grown to the point where distributors are using the data provided by manufacturers and adding their own attributes to the product information, which they then share with their customers," said Howe. This makes the system a multi-tier tool where data is not duplicated, but enhanced where necessary, maintaining the continuity of data from the beginning of the production to the ultimate end use. An example of something that might change is the minimum order quantity -- the manufacturer might have a minimum of a crate, but the distributor might sell that product by the carton.
Another reason for the GDSN's growing popularity is that it provides a systematic method of maintaining consistency in naming attributes across products from multiple manufacturers. This benefits retailers, which can call the same part by the same name across multiple suppliers.
For manufacturers, the GDSN is making the task of maintaining their internal data an automated process. This keeps their multiple systems constantly updated and avoids problems.