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Product Master Data and Product Recalls – US Standards Body (GS1 US): Rapid Recall Exchange – one step forward, two back

by Andrew White  |  September 23, 2009  |  3 Comments

On September 21 2009, GS1 US announced (along with Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufactures Association (GMA) a new offering called, Rapid Recall Exchange.  This service, offered to retailers and their suppliers, provides for a centralized mechanism that helps automate the distribution of information related to product recalls.  The initial focus is grocery products in the United States.  The value proposition of Rapid Recall Exchange is obvious; all consumers would want faster, cleaner, more effective mechanisms used by retailers (and by inference, their partners) in order to make recalls more effective.  So on paper this looks like a great idea.

When a supplier realizes that a product or products need to be recalled, they log into the server and posts information relating to which suppliers and which products need to be recalled.   The service then advises the retailers of the recall – which is then acknowledged in some way by the retailer.  The assumption is that from here on the retailer executes some agreed process with the supplier for physical disposition of the product and/or financial considerations.

All this sounds good – and it is.  But where does all this data come from?  The same standards body, GS1 US, has been part of a wider, deeper initiative, called Global Data Synchronization (GDS), GDS is a technology solution (using the Global Data Synchronization Network – GDSN) that synchronizes product data between suppliers and retailers.  GDS has been an active initiative for over 10 years; it is global.  Several large global suppliers and retailers have worked to make local data pools (regional stores of product data for groups of buyers and/or sellers) to be “interoperable” – which means that product data is exchanged between data pools.  The concept is that a supplier registers once a new product; and can from here share any and all necessary product data with any and all customers around the globe.  The concept is pretty simple – the practice is much more complex.  But GDS is established; it does work; it just does not work as well as expected but each year it makes some progress in terms of scope, adoption, and use.

The service – how to communicate product (and related) data quickly, easily, and in a more automated fashion – should be another reason why GDS should be more widely adopted!  The same standards body will lament, every year, “why cant’ we get GDS adopted more broadly?” yet, with this potential home run, they have grounded out.  Or, if you prefer, instead of hitting a “six”, GS1 US has hit its own wicket.

OK, so the launch is only grocery products – and GDSN was never strong (early on) with perishable and grocery type products due to the fact that product specifications are not uniform (think catch weight).  However, with the use of UPC and more recently, GTIN, this should not have been an issue. 

Such a product recall process is reliant on accurate, available, product data. And it is strange that it is not tied to GDSN.  By launching this service independent of GDSN the standards body is creating the potential for creating more, duplicate industry data, and harming the overall data quality that spans the supply chain they service.

Am I a perfectionist?  Am I silly for asking the question?  Is “practical reality”  really that practical?


Category: global-data-synchronization-gds  information-exchange  product-data-management-pdm  product-information-management-pim  product-lifecycle-management-plm  regulationcompliance  

Tags: global-data-synchronization-gds  mdm-of-product-data  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a research vice president and agenda manager for MDM and Analytics at Gartner. His main research focus is master data management (MDM) and the drill-down topic of creating the "single view of the product" using MDM of product data. He was co-chair… Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Product Master Data and Product Recalls – US Standards Body (GS1 US): Rapid Recall Exchange – one step forward, two back

  1. Steve Keifer says:

    I am equally confused. Why would GS1 promote a product recall service that is not based upon GDSN data synchronization standards? In fact, their own marketing literature on food traceability recommends the use of item synchronization between trading partners.

    As an industry we should be migrating towards one common approach for machine-to-machine synchronization of item data – not multiple competing efforts using different portals.

    The Rapid Recall Exchange also appears limited to the US in scope. Much of the FUD in the US media regarding salmonella outbreaks relates to imports from Latin America. Global data synchronization would also enable us to start solving this problem internationally. to GS1’s web site there is clearly a demand for better traceability in countries throughout the world.

  2. Hmmm. Perhaps I’ll take the side of GS1, GMA, FMI and NGA on this one. GS1 is clearly an organization that understands the limited success of GDS and has launched a solution that might be easier to adopt and use to solve a very visible real problem that needs solving now.

    This new solution should bring value to any organization that signs up for it. Should is the operative word, though. If a manufacturer signs up to use it but none, or few, of its customers have signed up, there is little value. Likewise, a retailer that signs up without having their suppliers participate will find little value.

    What has been true about GDS may still be true about Rapid Recall Exchange, though there is a much better chance that RRE will actually provide value to the participants much more quickly than GDS. Still, the reliance on manually entered data may lead to more problems as 2-5% of all manually keyed data is done so in error. Is 95% accuracy in this process better than the hodgepodge of methods that have been in use? Probably, but if the error rate is increased beyond that because some feels pressure to enter data quickly, how bad can it get?

    But is GDS any better? GS1 and other data pools have been working on coming up with data accuracy solutions recently because when the topic of validating data came up early on in the discussions on building UCCNet and other data pools, the topic was soon dropped because it required too much elbow grease. Providing a new way to move bad data became the prevalent global model. Add to that the fact that the focus of GDS was to get people to sign up, not necessarily to participate and we have a solution that is still suspect today.

    Recognizing the relative paucity of items synchronized globally via GDS as compared to the actual number of traded item types is a good move on the part of all these organizations. RRE may see a broader, more viable reach for the industry than GDS has, so far. If it does, will it somehow be integrated into the GDSN in order to leverage those processes, or are we going to see an acquiescence that it is too costly to add that functionality to a data pool or GDSN in general because there is just not enough usage, yet?

    Finally, if the brand owners are US-based companies, I’d think they should be able to use the tools no matter where their product is sourced. I’m not as concerned about that aspect. What I am concerned about is whether similar solutions are being developed for retailers in other countries. This is clearly a US-retailer based solution, driven by GS1-US. Will other GS1 organizations follow? Will they have to pay GS1-US to run it? Will they create their own? If the latter, brand owners may have to turn to dozens of different solutions around the world to manually input the same data. If GDS was more “popular” in its usage, a single integration to GDSN would make this much more globally viable. If every GS1 organization deploys their own solution, are we really any better off than we were with the old methods?

    Hmmm…Perhaps not.

  3. Andrew White says:

    Thanks for your post Bryan. In a practical sense I think your comments make sense. But strategically, I have to disagree. How many more copies of product data will this industry create, under the auspices of “client demand”? GDS is a great idea (still is); and it has had its issues. But the recall offering WILL attract users, will worsen the data quality of the data in the supply chain, and will undermine the next user adoption of GDS. Maybe the benefits short term (separate system) outweigh the benefits long term (of unification). I don’t see the long term that long – GDS “works” in a fashion that COULD have been leveraged.

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