UCCnet Compliance Ensures Steady Supply of Booda Bones At Wal-Mart
January 6, 2004 Alex Woodie
Wal-Mart’s UCCnet compliance deadline of January 1 has come and gone, but you should still be able to find your dog’s favorite Booda Bone snacks at your friendly neighborhood superstore. In late December, Booda Bone maker Aspen Pet Products connected its product data to the UCCnet GLOBALregistry, using software from Inovis. This put Wal-Mart and Aspen on the same page about details of Booda Bone shipments, but more important, it kept the tail of the world’s largest retailer wagging.
Wal-Mart doesn’t have to come out and say it, but its suppliers know the deal: Comply with our (AS2, UCCnet, RFID) IT initiatives or risk losing us as a customer. As the world’s largest company, Wal-Mart has a lot weight to throw around in the supply chain and is a major factor in the IT budgets of American manufacturers and distributors.
One of the suppliers whose IT plans have been affected by Wal-Mart is Aspen Pet Products, a privately held Denver, Colorado, manufacturer of toys, chews, and accessories for pets. Since it was formed in 1990, Aspen Pet has grown its revenues to about $65 million, and today it sells about 3,200 products to a variety of stores, including Petco, PetSmart, Wal-Mart, Meyer, among others.
In 1997, Aspen installed OS/400 EDI software from Premenos (now owned by Inovis) to enable electronic distribution of business documents from its AS/400-based J.D. Edwards World ERP system to its customers’ computer systems. EDI connectivity is a critical component of Aspen’s business process today, as EDI is used to communicate with 85 percent of Aspen’s customers, says IT director Chuck Sharpe.
THE MOVE TO AS2
In 2002, Wal-Mart asked 10,000 of its suppliers to start sending EDI documents over the Internet, to cut the mass merchandiser’s value added network charges. Wal-Mart wanted to accomplish this using the relatively new EDI-INT standard, which is delivered via the Applicability Statement 2, or AS2, protocol. Sharpe knew that AS2 could cut Aspen Pet’s value added network costs, too, so he began looking for software products that would make Aspen Pet AS2-compliant.
At the time, Sharpe was adamant that the new AS2 software had to run natively on the AS/400. “It was very critical to us at the time,” he says. He looked at the offerings from several vendors, including Cyclone Commerce, TrailBlazer Systems, and IPNet Solutions. Sharpe was familiar with TrailBlazer, since he had used other TrailBlazer products, but he eventually chose IPNet Solutions, which was a close Inovis business partner at the time but has since been acquired by Inovis.
Sharpe was impressed with the AS2 products from both TrailBlazer and IPNet, but he eventually chose the IPNet product after a thorough analysis in early 2003. “In the end, the interface for the connectivity part of it was easier and more flexible with Inovis than TrailBlazer,” he says.
This led Aspen Pet to consolidate its connectivity products on the IPNet-Inovis connectivity stack, an action Sharpe says is in line with its “one throat to choke” philosophy in dealing with software vendors. “We always buy canned software needing little or no modification,” Sharpe says. “We try to buy everything pre-integrated, because we have a small IT staff.”
The decision to go with Inovis, and the one-throat-to-choke philosophy, would play heavily in Aspen Pet’s UCCnet decisions. In early 2003, when Aspen was completing its AS2 project, Wal-Mart had already made its proclamation about the need to synchronize product data across the supply chain and its plans to use UCCnet to do this. The UCCnet standard was still being hashed out, but Sharpe made sure the AS2 product he chose would also carry them forward into UCCnet at some point down the road.
As 2003 wore on, and UCCnet momentum picked up, Aspen Pet felt comfortable going ahead with UCCnet and meeting Wal-Mart’s deadline. Everything related to the company’s UCCnet implementation–from product selection to installation–went quicker than its AS2 implementation.
AN OPENING OF THE MIND
Sharpe didn’t consider any vendor besides Inovis for the UCCnet implementation. “Because we had such good success with their first two products, we went ahead with their UCCnet product,” he says. “It’s all pre-integrated, therefore there’s not very much to do to get it up and running.” The initial UCCnet installation took only three days, compared with a week for AS2.
Considering Sharpe’s insistence that all related EDI software run on the AS/400, there was one small problem in choosing Inovis: The vendor’s UCCnet software, called BizManager for UCCnet Services, does not run entirely on OS/400. The company sells an AS2 component called BizManager/400 that will deploy to an iSeries (UCCnet uses AS2 as its data transport mechanism), but the core components of the UCCnet product, BizCatalog and BizSync MapPack, run on Windows. LANSA is the only vendor to sell an entirely OS/400-based solution that is “full UCCnet solution” according to the UCCnet Product Directory.
What’s more, Sharpe plans to move part of Aspen Pet’s AS2 deployment from an iSeries Model 820 to a Windows box. What has spurred this sudden change of heart and mind in an unabashed AS/400 bigot? Could it be the thin Denver air?
As it turns out, the change is spurred by security. Sharpe says that by keeping the AS2 software entirely on the iSeries, that iSeries is open to the Internet, where hackers, crackers, and ex-employees can roam freely. But by moving some folders to a Windows box, Sharpe can keep the iSeries off the Internet while keeping the iSeries in control of the process, and not lose any reliability, he says. “One thing about Inovis is their code is just bomb-proof,” Sharpe says, adding that he’s seen the same level of service with the Windows-AS2 software as he has with the OS/400-AS2 software.
With Inovis AS2 software running just fine on a Windows server, Sharpe says he sees no reason why Windows shouldn’t be used for Aspen Pet’s UCCnet project, which, he admits, sounds a little strange coming from him. “I would have told you the exact opposite a year ago,” he says.
OH, SAY, CAN YOU RFID?
Wal-Mart is the only retailer that Aspen Pet is synchronizing its product data with today, but that will likely change. Sharpe says about 80 percent of its top 25 customers have UCCnet plans, which may eventually require the manufacturer to use the Global Registry to synchronize product data for most of its 3,200 products.
Rolling out UCCnet compliance for the rest of its customers would involve replacing every UPC code with a new GTIN (global trade item number). Should this come to pass, it wouldn’t pose a huge burden on Aspen Pet, which spends only about 1.2 percent of its sales on IT outlay, because many of its UCCnet processes are now automated and replicable.
Whenever a company does business with Wal-Mart, it had best keep a watchful eye on its IT budget. The word is, Aspen Pet will need to support radio frequency identification (RFID), Wal-Mart’s latest display supplier requirement, by 2006, which is just 24 short months away.
This article has been changed to correct errors since it was originally published. The story originally stated that only software vendor with a UCCnet solution that runs completely on the OS/400 platform is LANSA. In fact, many vendors offer pure OS/400 UCCnet solutions, but LANSA is the only vendor to sell an entirely OS/400-based solution that is a “full UCCnet solution” according to the UCCnet Product Directory.
The story also characterized Aspen Pet as “dumping” one set of products, which was an unintentional poor word choice to describe what happened. That sentence now reads: “This led Aspen Pet to consolidate its connectivity products on the IPNet-Inovis connectivity stack, an action Sharpe says is in line with its “one throat to choke” philosophy in dealing with software vendors.