Vendors Offer Support for New UCCnet Services 2.3 Spec
June 22, 2004 Alex Woodie
Six months after Wal-Mart’s first UCCnet deadline, product data synchronization projects continue among the nation’s midmarket manufactures and distributors, particularly those that sell to The Home Depot and other hard-lines retailers with UCCnet mandates. Last month the Uniform Code Council announced the new UCCnet Synchronization Suite Version 2.3 specification, which includes the capability to publish pricing information, in addition to extensions for the hard-lines supply chain.
Retailers in the hard-lines industry are following in the footsteps of retail giant Wal-Mart in requiring their suppliers to adopt UCCnet data synchronization in order to cut losses related to using bad product data. “Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Ace Hardware all moving forward fairly quickly, with deadlines in first half of 2005,” says Bill Hood, director of marketing at LANSA, one of the UCCnet software companies supporting UCCnet Services 2.3, and one of five preferred providers of UCCnet software for The Home Depot. Manufacturers that supply hard-lines retailers, many of which are OS/400 shops, will be encouraged to start synchronizing their product data in the next four to six months, he says.
Data synchronization implementations in the hard-lines industry will be streamlined with UCCnet Services 2.3, which includes adoption of the revised Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Standards-extended attributes for the hard-lines industry, as well as enhancements in the XML schema related to pricing data and retailer requests for notifications. Until this release, companies have had to communicate UCCnet pricing information manually, using Web sites or Excel spreadsheets, says Alan Christensen, LANSA’s director of e-business solutions. “Until pricing is included in data synchronization, it’s not complete,” he says. The new retailer requests for notification enhancement enables data synchronization to be a push or a pull process, instead of just a push from suppliers, he says.
We are in the middle of the mainstream adoption phase of UCCnet data synchronization, Christensen says. “If you’re looking at it [UCCnet], there’s really no reason why” you shouldn’t implement it, Christen says. “The synchronization payload is very robust.” LANSA is one of 14 companies that offer behind-the-firewall data synchronization software or UCCnet services and have been certified for UCCnet Services 2.3. There’s a sizable benefit to gaining UCCnet certification. Customers that install a behind-the-firewall data synchronization product get 25 percent knocked off the cost of subscribing to UCCnet’s service, while companies that purchase a hosted UCCnet Services 2.3 offering get a 50 percent discount. This can translate into thousands of dollars in savings.
There are several vendors of OS/400-based data synchronization products that are certified for UCCnet Services 2.3, including LANSA, Sterling Commerce, Inovis, and EXTOL, which just released an OS/400 version of its UCCnet Integrator product, the company says. LANSA reports that the Windows and OS/400 versions of its Data Sync Direct product are certified for UCCnet Services 2.3, while the AIX and Linux versions have yet to be.
Some of the other companies that have completed UCCnet Services 2.3 certification for their hosted offerings or software, but whose software doesn’t run on the iSeries (but may support OS/400 applications through adapters), include bTrade, which sells an Item Sync application that runs on Windows and Solaris but will work with AS400 environments, and Cardonet, which sells a product called Cardonet Synergy 6.10 that runs on Windows, Unix, and Linux operating systems. Computer Horizons sells a Windows-based product for small and midsized businesses called Xpress Messenger, and it also offers the Xpress Synchronization Engine for enterprises. Global eXchange Services sells its Java-based Quick Connect and Product Information Manager products for Windows, Unix, and Linux platforms, while Integrated Software Systems sells a Windows-based UCCnet solution called CERICOMX. TR2 Consulting, which has been acquired by Sterling Commerce, sells a hosted offering as well as an Intel-based product called TR2 Enterprise, which supports the AS/400 and J.D. Edwards applications, while webMethods, whose webMethods UCCnet Module runs on Windows, Solaris, and AIX platforms, also supports major ERP apps, such as those from JDE, PeopleSoft, and SAP, through adapters. Other data synchronization solutions certified for UCCnet Services 2.3 include Transora, TIBCO Software Business Connect 3.0, and Ontuet Technologies Ontuet eX.
Two other vendors of behind-the-firewall data synchronization products are Cleo Communications and TrailBlazer Systems, both of which offer products that support earlier versions of the UCCnet Services specification. Cyclone Commerce also recently launched its Cyclone for Data Synch product, a Java application that’s based on the company’s established Cyclone Interchange technology, which is in production on OS/400 servers today. While Cyclone is not currently listed as one of the 35 UCC Solution Partners providing UCCnet software or services, it has plenty of experience with data synchronization, says Cyclone spokesman Bill Hankes: UCCnet uses Cyclone software as its main hub.
UCCnet is a global product data synchronization effort aimed at eradicating errors and other little inconsistencies that reside in barcodes, EDI messages, and the ERP databases of companies in large supply chains. It has been estimated that 30 percent of items in retail catalogs have data errors, which cost between $60 and $80 each to fix and consume 25 minutes of manual correction per SKU, which amounts to $40 billion per year, or 3.5 percent of sales, and that hurts corporate profits and drives up costs for consumers. By setting a new data standard (the Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN), which has several dozen variables for attributes such as size, weight, and quantity), and then establishing a centralized database where buyers and sellers can coordinate their GTINs (which was formerly called the GLOBALregistry but is now called simply the UCCnet Registry), supporters hope to run supply chains more efficiently. Most of Wal-Mart’s top 100 suppliers have already implemented UCCnet data synchronization (along with about a quarter of its midsized suppliers), but it’s too early to determine how much money is being saved, vendors report.
The UCCnet organization reports that much of the growth in UCCnet subscriptions over the last year can be attributed to the hard-lines industry as well as to other non-grocery industries, such as general merchandise. More than 500 companies have subscribed to UCCnet Services in the last 45 days, bringing the total number of subscribers to about 3,500. This is a good start in North America, where there are an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 manufacturers and distributors; Wal-Mart alone does business with about 25,000 suppliers, while The Home Depot has about 5,000.