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Trading in Concert

How do you share data on the EPCglobal Network? Practice, practice, practice!
By Mike Meranda
Aug 01, 2006—I have musical aspirations for my two young children, and I hope that getting them involved in music early on will enrich their lives. So I endure the hours of loud noise as they practice. (I'm teaching my son how to play the trumpet, so our neighbors are part of the experience, too!) Music is a big part of my life, so I can anticipate the satisfaction they'll get from mastering a musical instrument and playing in concert with other musicians.

Much the same can be said about the EPCglobal community. For the past several years, we have been working on selecting instruments and getting tuned up. In late 2005, we began looking to 2006 as the year in which the EPCglobal Network would begin to take shape and companies would begin exchanging Electronic Product Code data and making business decisions based on that data.

We have achieved that goal. Standards and solutions are in place, and software and hardware are ready to support initial implementations. And while there's value in implementing technology internally, I think most believe that the real value will come when EPC is used "in concert" to improve collaborative business processes between trading partners.

EPCglobal organized a pilot that included two of the largest retailers in the world and five Fortune 500 suppliers. The goal was to use EPCs as goods moved through the supply chain. The pilot demonstrated that networked connections between trading partners made EPC data exchange possible, and it revealed the following benefits.

Improved Collaborative Processes
By exchanging EPC data, suppliers can gain insights into the location and status of their products within the retailers' operations. They can use this information to work with retailers to maximize the sell-through of products, particularly during critical sales promotions.

Streamlined Data Exchange with Standards
When companies standardize and automate their data capture and exchange, processes can be streamlined. One manufacturer saved four to eight hours of labor time with each retail partner by sharing EPC data in a standardized format, which automated data download.

Resolved Issues With EPC Data
The standardized data structure ensures accurate and reliable data. The participating companies saved, on average, between eight and 24 hours each time a data integrity issue arose.

Improved Read-rate Calculations
When partners share EPC data in advance of shipments, it can help them more accurately calculate tag and interrogator performance metrics. That's because they can establish a baseline of how many tags should have been read at each point in the supply chain.

Better Control of Inventory
Tracking products with EPCs provides real-time visibility, which enables trading partners to replenish products on a timelier basis. Instead of relying on visual inspection or point-of-sale data, retailers can use EPC data to know how much product is in the back room and on the selling floor.

The pilot demonstrated that the standards, technology and solutions are ready to move from a testing phase to an orchestra of trading partners exchanging and sharing EPC data. We're starting to hear some very beautiful music from the EPCglobal Symphony.

Mike Meranda is president of EPCglobal US. Illustration by Jud Guitteau.
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