Some years ago global data sync was conceived. This was a retail/consumer good initiative that has since gone through dramatic changes. It was born during the dot.com era and suffered from that era’s hubris. The original design, known as UCCnet was for a massively large central data store for all rich product data for all suppliers and all retailers on the planet earth. I still remember the first public presentation-sitting their listen to the incredulous ‘vision’ that clearly would have made Oracle very happy. Clearly it never could work as conceived.
Thankfully cooler heads prevailed and the architectural vision shifted from a centralized hub and spoke concept to a peer to peer model. The model required a thin global register of core shared product master data and sharing business rules at the center. The peers were to comprise larger data pools. Each data pool might represent a country, a region, or a group of suppliers or retailers- and there were quite a number of data pools at the time.
Some data pools existed before GDSN and so those had to figure out when (and if) they would support the standards promoted by GDSN and UCC. UCC also changed name to GS1. Examples included SINFOS in Europe and most of the apparel industry, already vertically integrated. Some data pools were brand new, created by groups of retailers (WWRE) and some suppliers (Transora). It as the Wild West. It was a fun time.
My research at this time took a strange turn. Being focused on supply chain I was talking with many retailers and their partners about GDSN. It turned out that:
- Suppliers were not really able to assure the quality of the data being shared through the network
- Retailers, if they ever received good clean data, didn’t know what to do with it since their internal applications were not designed to operate with a single version of the truth.
So GDSN took a long while to get started. Adoption basically followed what is called “core item attributes”. At least retailers and heir partners could agree what those were. What they could not agree with was the range and scope of the partner specific attributes: these were unique by trading pair, and even product category. Each data pool became a complex, different data model as each was driven by a different segment of the community. Few partners ever reached into the heady promise of rich product data synchronization and so business process optimization never took place.
The development of these data pools was costly. And margins were already thin. What was the value of syncing core item attributes to retailers and suppliers? Turns out, not a lot. The real value emerges once business process, dependent and driven by synced product data, improve. Most GDSN efforts struggled to get this far. So over the last few years almost all the known data pools gave up the ghost. They started to consolidate and it didn’t stop. Today 1WorldSync represents the end and final stage for that legacy set of data pools. They have pretty much all gone there.
So what’s been happening more recently? It seems several things.
- The core item attribute data sync service is alive and well.
- GS1 has taken the GDSN vision to other industries including food service (as integrated as apparel) and healthcare.
- The need to share and sync reliable data between retailers and suppliers has only increased, driven by a number of things not least the focus on digital transformation.
- A new wave of trading-pair focused data sync services has popped up.
It is this last point which interests me today. There are a number of vendors, many are startups that connect with the core GDSN network. Have a look at Salsify and Alkemics. They offer a range of new and additional services to help exchange and sync rich product data that comprises structured and content, most often needed at the unique trading pair level. This is where data pools of old where supposed to deliver value add. They failed. So what chance this new breed?
I am not totally convinced the new model replaces GDSN. In my view the new vision should adopt GDSN at least the part that was the global register. I think these vendor business’ models are more practical than the data pool models of old. These are private firms, for-profit based, with no ‘community’ board to get in the way of strategy. They are anchored with key retailers, that always tended to lead to efforts with nice, friendly mandates or shall we say, ‘invitations’ from retailers.
So I think we may yet see a rejuvenation in GDSN success in retail/consumer goods. I think GS1 should focus on developing a two tier model, splitting out the global register from its legacy data pool business. GS1 and 1WorldSync should quietly drop the effort to build out any new data pool business. And instead focus on making these new vendors successful by:
- Focusing on connecting the hubs trough their global register
- Focus on data quality assurance and compliance in the network.
This last item has been a bugbear since inception. GS1 has never been willing to make a serious run at this. It needs to.
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