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Getting EPC In Sync With GDSN

To get the most benefit from your EPC RFID deployment, you’ll need to make sure that your product data matches that of your supply chain partners. Enter the Global Data Synchronization Network.
By Bob Violino
Jan 24, 2005—Enterprises in every industry want to create truly collaborative electronic supply chains and gain visibility into all the products in the chain, so they can better track inventory and improve the accuracy of shipments. For a lot of companies, including those planning on using the EPCglobal Network, the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) will be vital tool to achieve this.

The GDSN was created to align product and manufacturer information across all partners in the supply chain, providing a single version of the information for all the partners. The EPCglobal Network was created to support the management and exchange of supply chain information captured by RFID technology, making it easier for companies to benefit from the information provided by RFID systems and share this data with partners. The main difference is the GDSN identifies an entire class of products or type of product, so, for example, there is one record for Oreo cookies. The EPCglobal Network identifies a specific package or case or pallet of Oreo cookies.

Both of these networks are in the early stages of development—with standards still emerging and components being tested in pilot programs. But people who follow their development believe both technologies will ultimately help enterprises increase revenue and cut costs by better managing their inventories and collaborating with supply chain partners.

The EPCglobal Network—a group of technologies that uses RFID to enable the automatic identification and sharing of information on individual items in the supply chain—was conceived by the Auto-ID Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is being developed and managed by EPCglobal, an organization formed by standards organizations Uniform Code Council (UCC) and EAN International.

Companies will use the EPCglobal Network to identify products, track shipments, and share that information with each other, with much of the data collected via RFID technology. The network will employ the Electronic Product Code (EPC), a numbering scheme, to identify individual items, cases and pallets as they move through the supply chain. The EPC tag on each item, case or pallet will contain the EPC number.

Data from the tags will be gathered by readers and passed through EPC middleware to business systems such as enterprise resource planning and warehouse management applications. In order to retrieve product information for a specific EPC whose handling lifecycle isn’t known, companies’ business systems will need to query the Object Name Service (ONS), which will call up the Web address of an EPC Discovery Services server, which, in turn, can provide links to the EPC Information Services (EPC IS) servers that contain data about the specific object. ONS is an automated networking service similar to the Domain Name Service (DNS) that points computers to Web sites on the Internet. Where the lifecycle is known, direct queries to EPC IS servers will be possible.

The GDSN, launched in August 2004 by EAN and UCC, is a global, Internet-based network designed to let trading partners efficiently exchange supply chain data that’s accurate, up-to-date and compliant with EAN.UCC standards. There have been similar efforts to synchronize product data, including UCCnet, a standards-based provider of data registration and synchronization services that’s a subsidiary of the Uniform Code Council. UCCnet provides EAN-UCC standards-based registry and data synchronization services, and will continue to provide assistance and support to subscribers during the ramp up of the GDSN. Once the GDSN is operating, companies will have to subscribe to the GDSN’s GS1 Global Registry and GDSN’s data pools, which are servers that store information about products and companies that multiple companies can have access to. UCCnet data pool will function as an element of the GDSN.
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