TESTING BEGINS FOR GLOBAL NETWORK

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Testing began last month, and will continue through June and July, in preparation for a late July launch of a Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) that promises to seamlessly link trading partners around the world.Progress on GDSN, which is being spearheaded by Uniform Code Council and EAN International, was reported late last month at the UCC's annual U Connect Conference,

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Testing began last month, and will continue through June and July, in preparation for a late July launch of a Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) that promises to seamlessly link trading partners around the world.

Progress on GDSN, which is being spearheaded by Uniform Code Council and EAN International, was reported late last month at the UCC's annual U Connect Conference, held here at the Hilton Anaheim Resort.

GDSN will consist of interconnected data pools holding retailers' and manufacturers' item data. The data pools will employ a Global Registry as a directory for determining which data pool has detailed information on particular products.

"When GDSN is up, it will be a single point of entry for any retailer to go to a data pool and get information from any [manufacturer] data pool in the world, and any manufacturer will be able to communicate with any [retailer] data pool," said Dennis Harrison, senior vice president, UCC, and president, EAN.UCC. "We don't have that today." Harrison participated in a panel discussion on GDSN on the last day of the U Connect Conference, May 27.

The new Global Registry is a spin-off of the registry used by UCCnet, a UCC subsidiary based in Lawrenceville, N.J. UCCnet will no longer maintain its registry, but will serve as the U.S. data pool and be responsible for the technical operation of the new Global Registry, which will be managed by UCC and EAN International.

In addition to UCCnet, WWRE (Worldwide Retail Exchange) and Transora are committed to being commercial data pools certified under GDSN. Transora announced last month that Kroger has become the first retail user of its recipient (retail) data pool, and Royal Ahold announced at U Connect that it will use WWRE as its data pool.

The advent of GDSN could affect the almost 3,500 companies, including 32 announced retailers, who have signed up to subscribe to UCCnet, many of them in the past year (see chart at right). "It's not the road we thought we were taking, but it is the road we ended up on," said Fred Geiger, senior vice president of product for UCCnet, who also participated on the panel.

Harrison said "alpha testing" had begun earlier in May to verify the connections of data pools to the new Global Registry. That will be followed in June and July by beta interoperability tests of data pools communicating to each other through the registry, paving the way for the launch of the system on July 31. UCCnet, WWRE and Transora have committed to being in the beta test, and others have applied to be in the test, which starts next week, said Geiger.

After July 31, "we will grow with more data pools," said Harrison. "It's only the beginning." To join the network, other data pools will need to meet certification requirements that will be set in September.

The development of GDSN is being managed by a 16-member Oversight Committee that includes Marianne Timmons, director of B2B, Wegmans Food Markets, and Randy Salley, vice president, merchandising systems, Wal-Mart Stores. The committee will set subscription fees and appoint the companies who will perform data pool certification. A technical group, the GDSN Task Group, is working on more standards and identifying barriers to use.

Describing the makeup of the new Global Registry, Harrison said it will use the AS2 communication protocol and will standardize data using the Global Classification System. He said that work is still under way to establish contracts between data pools and the Global Registry and between data pools regarding "the security of data."

UCCnet's Plans

At the panel discussion, Geiger reported on UCCnet's plans to adapt to the new GDSN scenario. All of UCCnet's current subscribers "are positioned to move into the GDSN as need be," he said.

Geiger said that among the more than 3,400 manufacturer subscribers in UCCnet, about 1,100 companies have registered about 250,000 items (including private label) in UCCnet's registry; 796 companies have synchronized items, many with two or more trading partners.

"We're going to try to make it very easy to get products [in the UCCnet registry] registered in the new Global Registry," Geiger told SN last week. "We think it's best that all of the products are listed. If we can make it happen, we will." He said this will require only "minor changes to interconnections we have in production."

In some cases, companies will continue to use UCCnet as a data pool link to GDSN, but UCCnet members can select other data pools as they emerge. "We do not project a large number of companies moving away from UCCnet this year," he said. "As opportunities grow, people will make decisions about what's right for their company."

Geiger noted that the new Global Registry requires just eight attributes per item; the UCCnet registry required 35. The new Global Registry doesn't name the manufacturer of the item, but points the retailer to the data pool that has more data.

Data Pools will have 151 attributes for each item. UCCnet began requiring that many last August, but before then only used 62 attributes. Companies using the old system, noted Geiger, would have to trade up to the current version to participate in GDSN, and some may not choose to do so right away. "If a UCCnet manufacturer is only in production with Wal-Mart or Wegmans, they may not need to move to the Global Registry," he said. Retailers and manufacturers participating in GDSN will have to pay a data pool fee as well as a fee to the Global Registry. The latter fees, ranging from $100 to $100,000, are posted on the GDSN road map document on UCC's Web site, www.uc-council.org. U.S. retailers can pay the fees (which are generally lower than UCCnet registry fees) through UCC or authorized data pools.

In addition to helping its members transition to GDSN, UCCnet is focused on increasing the implementation rate of data synch, Geiger said. To that end, UCCnet has launched a "Proven Partners Program" to certify best-in-class solution providers that have a track record of adoption. "This will simplify the selection process and reduce the lead time to get into production," he said. Thus far, 13 companies have been certified under the program.

Geiger added that retailers or manufacturers using those certified vendors may be eligible for reduced UCCnet fees "because cost has been taken out of what had been done by UCCnet."

Retailers/Distributors Who Joined UCCnet in the Past Year

United Natural Foods: Q3 2003

Safeway: Q3 2003

Staples: Q3 2003

Pathmark Stores: Q3 2003

McLane Co: Q3 2003

H.E. Butt Grocery: Q4 2003

Bozzuto's: Q4 2003

Office Depot: Q4 2003

Associated Food Stores: Q4 2003

Buckaroo$: Q2 2004

Fareway Stores: Q2 2004

Source: UCCnet