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Supply Chain Visibility

How to use EPCIS to share information with business partners.
By Ken Traub
Jan 06, 2015

In my column EPCIS for Internal Projects, I discussed the benefits of using GS1's Electronic Product Code Information Services standard within a company to share RFID data. Business partners can also benefit by using EPCIS to share information regarding the location of products and other assets, gaining visibility across the supply chain.

In order to share data, all business partners must be able to understand the data. This requires strict adherence to the EPCIS standard and the EPC Core Business Vocabulary (CBV), which provides common definitions for all the data that populates EPCIS events.

Decide what EPCIS data you and your partners need to share. You may collect EPCIS events internally for many steps of your business process, but only a few of these events are relevant to a trading partner and should be shared externally. Also, determine what data you would like to receive from your partners.

Consider the "choreography" of EPCIS data sharing: Will you automatically move some data to your business partners each time you ship a product? Or will you wait for your partners to request the data they want, using the EPCIS query language?

Set up your software. If you are already capturing EPCIS data internally, you have the most important components: the EPCIS capturing applications that generate EPCIS data from your own operations, and an EPCIS repository that stores the EPCIS data until you need it. If not, see How to Deploy EPCIS.

To share your data with other companies, you will need to implement an EPCIS accessing application—software that retrieves data from your EPCIS repository and sends it to your partners. Depending on the choreography, this software might do so automatically, in response to an internal trigger such as a product shipment, or it might respond to an incoming query. This functionality is integrated into most EPCIS repository software. In cases where it's not, it is typically easy to harness an enterprise application integration (EAI) platform to do the work.

On the inbound side, you will need software to receive data from business partners and enter it into your repository. Your EPCIS repository or an EAI platform provides this capability as well.

Make sure the communication link is secured properly. EPCIS data is often shared using AS2, a secure communication protocol built on top of HTTP, widely used for electronic data interchange (EDI). Implementing AS2 usually requires "gateway" software to bridge your internal, secure network to the outside world. If you're already using AS2 for EDI, you should be able to reuse that software for EPCIS.

Another option is to entrust your EPCIS data to a third-party cloud service, which can also share data with your business partners.

Ken Traub is the founder of Ken Traub Consulting, a Mass.-based firm providing services to com­panies that rely on advanced software technology to run their businesses. Send your software questions to swsavvy@kentraub.com.

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