For Ace Hardware, Oak Brook, Ill., which does business in 70 countries, the need to accommodate 13-digit bar codes in North America was clear, said John L. Poss, Ace's merchandising coordinator, at U Connect.
ins," he said. "Manufacturers were pleading with us to do something. If we didn't do it, we'd be behind the eight ball."
Ace also wanted to be ready for the RSS code "if and when it comes into play," he said.
Poss pointed out that at Ace, numerous departments, including merchandising, distribution, retail, finance and international, all had to restructure their databases. "For us it was an octopus," he said. So Ace decided for the first time in its history to use an outside consultant, IT20, Naperville, Ill., to assist in the changeover. With a limited staff, "we didn't want to shut down other projects."
Working with IT20, which has offices in India as well as in Illinois, Ace used a step-by-step "phased" approach, said Poss. Ace technicians shared results at the end of their business day with their counterparts in India, who would be just starting their business day, so the project operated around the clock. That helped reduce the cost of the six-month project (plus a four-week assessment period) by 40% compared to initial estimates, Poss said, though his staff "had a hard time keeping up" with the communications with India.
Ace, which uses an IBM mainframe and AS/400 servers, as well as IMS DB and DB2 databases, discovered that 525 programs across its divisions -- 50 in distribution alone -- had to be adjusted to accommodate the expanded data structures, Poss said. In addition, six IMS segments and 29 DB2 tables were impacted.
The process, Poss adds, helped Ace organize its data files better, so that now it has a single centralized data structure controlling all data elements, rather than 57 unconnected databases. Previously, different departments had different stockkeeping unit numbers, Poss said, noting that "this project raised the bar to clean up the system and bring greater integrity to the data structure."
Since converting to GTINs, Ace has been advising its retail and distribution divisions to use bar-code information rather than SKU numbers or manufacturer numbers. By scanning 14-digit ITF bar codes in its distribution centers, Ace is much more accurate in picking; errors have been reduced to 0.001%, Poss said, "guaranteeing retailers are getting what they ordered." Training time has been reduced from six weeks to four days. "We're seeing huge savings on the distribution side," he said.
"Don't delay," Poss admonished UConnect attendees. "You can't develop a game plan in 24 hours. It's a joint effort." Poss said that even if a retailer is just trading in North America today, converting to a 14-digit system "will be to your advantage."