2004 started out with the usual predictions of increased adoption for the Global Data Synchronization (GDS) initiative and the retailers were still sending out “Dear Valued Supplier” letters. However, as spring neared it was clear that the industry-wide GDS initiative was stalling. For a supplier, the conflicting information out in the market on the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) and lack of “teeth” in these mandates, and more importantly - a general lack of support from the actual buyers at the retailers, caused most suppliers to take a wait and see attitude, especially with the admission by early adopters that ROI was more elusive than industry pundits were first touting.
The 800-pound gorilla, Wal-Mart, who led the charge in 2002-2003 was busy digesting the huge amount of product data sent by their top 100 suppliers. This caused Wal-Mart to “lie low” during 2004 as they worked on internal synchronization of the product data. After all, it would not do much good for Wal-Mart to “mandate” that product data be synchronized – and then not follow up on the purpose of synchronized product data which is consistent product attributes on all commerce documents such as purchase orders and acknowledgements!
To add more cold water on the GDS initiative, EAN.UCC was busy defining (and redefining!) their role in this global initiative and the roles of UCCnet and exchanges (now called Data Pools) such as WWRE and Transora who had a vested relationship with many of the top CPG retailers and manufacturers. One of the main stumbling blocks that came up in 2004 was the ownership issue for the Global Registry (now called the GS1) which is the centerpiece of the network that allows various Data Pools around the world to “find” and coordinate the sharing of product data for trading partners (the interoperability that makes a network a network!).
But all of these events, as crazy as they seem, fall into a predictable pattern. These same patterns were seen in earlier industry-wide initiatives such as EDI, UPC and Bar Codes, and EDI over the Internet (EDI-INT) using AS2 standards.
Being another in a line of industry initiatives, the Global Data Synchronization initiative is following the same predictable patterns. Industry analysts have dubbed this the “Hype Cycle” which looks like this:
Why does this happen? Several predictable factors have pushed each industry initiative down the same path:
- The “hype” serves as a catalyst to spur collaboration across the industry for standards and technical interoperability.
- Early adopters, both on the supplier and retailer side, increase the visibility as they role out pilots, and technology vendors tout their new applications and systems for the emerging market – adding to the visibility.
- As the early adopters engage in the new industry initiative, a wave of issues crop up and cause a state of entrenchment, a kind of quiet stage where these issues are “ironed out”. During this quiet stage the retailer’s push for suppliers to adopt the new initiative is reduced dramatically, causing the downward trend in visibility.
- Once the issues are resolved, the pressure for industry wide adoption becomes strong and steady, and the industry initiative marches on to broad adoption.
Now, in early 2005, Wal-Mart is back on track with the necessary process and technical systems in place, the broader GDSN has settled down with smooth interoperability and parity for all Data Pools, the GS1 is now an independent body, while the collaboration on standards such as attributes and messaging have reached a stable and useful state. While there will still be updates and changes moving forward, these will not include the volatility we saw in 2004.
Now that the “hype” is over, what does this mean to the average supplier?
The GDS initiative has reached a state of stability and true interoperability. Suppliers have more choices for Data Pools that have parity in the GDSN, each with their own value-add services. Wal-Mart will give full attention to GDS compliance for the supplier community and their communications to suppliers will be more personal and increasingly clear on what they are expected to do. In other words, no more “Dear Valued Supplier” letters, rather a more direct set of expectations and procedures with timelines. Now that the “New Item Add” process has been fully rolled into the GDS system at Wal-Mart, buyers will increasingly be putting pressure on their suppliers to complete Product Data Synchronization as, for the buyer, the time it to takes to add a new item for a non-GDS supplier is hours, and the time it takes to add a new item for a GDS supplier is seconds. The other large retailers that are on the forefront of the GDS initiative are not far behind Wal-Mart with completing their own internal synchronization projects and will be “mandating” on a more personal level as well. Bottom line for suppliers: GDS is coming, and coming fast.
For the average supplier, the maturity of the data synchronization arena means a smoother and clearer path to compliance. This means mature products, more vetted and experienced GDS technology vendors, and competitive pricing.
And by the way: All this without the hype.
About Enterworks, Inc.Enterworks® develops, markets, and supports software that enables buyers and suppliers to create, synchronize, and manage product data in a variety of formats. Customers of the company's product information management (PIM) solutions include global, enterprise-level buyers, as well as small and midsize suppliers. Enterworks' applications are built on proven business process automation and content integration technology used by some of the world's largest retailers, manufacturing companies, financial services firms, and US government agencies. In addition, the company's solutions are embedded by technology vendors and marketed by partners worldwide. For additional details about Enterworks and its solutions, visit www.enterworks.com or call 888-242-8356.