Three Boosts for EPCIS

By Ken Traub

ISO ratification, new guidelines and free tools will propel adoption of the Electronic Product Code Information Services standard.

GS1's Electronic Product Code Information Services standard, publish­ed in 2007, enables inter­operability between companies that want to exchange supply-chain data. The Core Business Vocabulary, which provides common definitions for data that populates EPCIS, became a global GS1 standard in 2010.

As I've written in past columns, EPCIS and CBV provide an effective way to capture information from RFID and bar codes and to share that information with business applications and trading partners (see How to Deploy EPCIS, EPCIS for Internal Projects and Supply Chain Visibility). Companies that adopt EPCIS can maximize the return on investment from their RFID deployments.

But the benefits of EPCIS are most widely known in the industry sectors served by GS1—consumer goods, fresh food, pharmaceuticals and transportation/logistics—and primarily to those companies actively involved in the GS1 community where they can find EPCIS expertise. Three recent developments will help expand adoption.

In September, the Organization for International Standardization (ISO) announced that both EPCIS and CBV have been published as ISO standards—EPCIS as ISO/IEC 19987 and CBV as ISO/IEC 19988. The ISO and GS1 versions are word-for-word identical. But ISO publication brings awareness of the standards to companies and sectors outside the GS1 community. This is especially helpful in sectors in which supply-chain traceability initiatives stem from government regulation (typically aimed at improving consumer safety), as virtually all governments are familiar with ISO and accept its role as the world's ultimate standards authority.

Also aiding adoption is the publication of guidelines that provide step-by-step instructions for applying EPCIS to specific business situations. GS1 US has published the GS1 Healthcare US Implementation Guideline for the pharmaceutical industry, and GS1 Brazil is finalizing the Brazilian Medicine Traceability Using GS1 EPCIS Implementation Guideline to help companies meet local traceability regulations.

In October, GS1 published its EPCIS/CBV Implementation Guideline, a comprehensive methodology and tutorial for applying EPCIS to a variety of business situations, including shipping and receiving, aggregation, transformation of raw materials into finished products, electronic coupons and vouchers, and returnable-asset management. The guide explains in detail how new adopters of EPCIS should design their traceability data in conformance with the standard to achieve supply-chain visibility and interoperability. GS1 will likely publish more sector- and locale-specific guidelines as adoption increases.

Many commercial products have out-of-the-box capability to send and receive EPCIS data, as do many free and open-source software tools. The software options are increasing as developers step up to meet the demand arising from growing EPCIS adoption. Free open-source EPCIS software includes the venerable Fosstrak and newcomer Oliot. FREEPCIS, a free cloud-based EPCIS server just launched by my company, Ken Traub Consulting, is complemented by my Visibility Data Workbench, a free tool for working with EPCIS data.

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