WHAT'S IN STORE?

Developments in technology can often change the way we do business, but innovations don't mean re-inventing the wheel every time. It can mean building on what we already have set up. Let's look at an example. The Uniform Code Council and the Voluntary Interindustry Communications Standards Committee have announced the completion of a joint study conducted by Kurt Salmon Associates. KSA was chartered

Developments in technology can often change the way we do business, but innovations don't mean re-inventing the wheel every time. It can mean building on what we already have set up. Let's look at an example. The Uniform Code Council and the Voluntary Interindustry Communications Standards Committee have announced the completion of a joint study conducted by Kurt Salmon Associates. KSA was chartered to evaluate the existing "supply chain enabling technologies" like the bar codes we use (UPC, EAN, etc.) and the telecommunications standards (EDI). They were also asked to take a look at potential alternative technologies, like two-dimensional symbols, radio frequency, "proximity devices" like smart cards, and "imaging" like Optical Character Recognition.

The results of the study were: · EDI and UPC bar coding seem to meet most business needs.

· New technologies must work with existing systems.

· There is no single technology that will satisfy needs for high-capacity data encryption across the entire supply chain.

· The enhancement of existing communication infrastructures, systems, and business practices should be examined before any new technologies are implemented, and the UCC and VICS should do this examining.

What's the significance of the study? It means we won't be seeing any Maxicodes on coupons, or 2-D symbols on products, or infrared symbols on shipping containers, or any other new base technologies replacing the existing standards. This may come as a relief to manufacturers and retailers. Changes to products and coupons and shipping containers and telecommunications would represent a major investment for them. What we are seeing and will continue to see are innovations and variations based on existing technology. Take coupons, for example. They're now being distributed in new ways: through in-store kiosks tied to scanning systems, and via the Internet as electronic versions with no paper involved. But they are all still coded using UPCs. Expanded coupon code 128s are added to the existing UPC standard.

Frequent shopper programs are increasing, but they're all based on UPC data. Actually, in almost every case, the identification cards are coded with UPC codes, too. New deal methods like "scan-downs" or "pay-for-performance" are being used, but the data on which manufacturers pay is all UPC codes.

Telecommunications is faster and more reliable today, but the communications standards for EDI data formatting haven't changed. Products are being purchased via home shopping, but the codes on the PC screens are UPC codes.

All that's needed is to keep up with what's being used, stay on the leading edge of standards, and add new technology to existing systems as new technology is developed. The importance of the study is that we don't have to worry about existing systems becoming obsolete, as long as they're based on the current standards.

A detailed summary of the KSA report is available. Call Theresa Mitchell Erman at the UCC at (513) 435-3870, ext. 29.

Carlene A. Thissen is president of Retail Systems Consulting, Naples, Fla.