CHICAGO -- Led by UCCnet, retailers and manufacturers in food retailing and other sectors have been developing a process by which trading partners can be assured that their information on products is in sync, thereby eliminating frequent, costly billing errors. That process, data synchronization, crossed a new milestone in August with the launch of the Global Data Synchronization Network, a truly global network of data pools using a single Global Registry as a standard directory. Transora, the business-to-business exchange here founded in 2000, is one of the first data pools to pass an interoperability test for GDSN. Formerly focused solely on manufacturers, Transora has recently begun signing up retailers for its data pool and synchronization services, including Kroger, Publix and, last week, Schnuck Markets. SN asked former Sara Lee executive Judy Sprieser, who has been chief executive officer of Transora since its inception, to assess the significance of GDSN to the food industry.
SN: What does the launch of GDSN mean for the food retailing industry?
Sprieser: It's hard to think of [GDSN] as a new release yet. What is official so far is the separation of UCCnet's data pool functionality from that of the Global Registry for product data. That helps clarify the landscape. But now there's a lot of work needed to make the whole network seamless and operational.
SN: What needs to be done?
Sprieser: Transora has made it a priority to connect to other data pools. GDSN's goal is to standardize this so these connections won't be hard to do. I assure you that's not easy -- each is different. I guess it will take a couple of years.
SN: What are the main hurdles to overcome?
Sprieser: There are very few data pools that actually synchronize data. A lot just send flat data files. We need to make a lot of progress in that. After that, probably the biggest sticky wicket out there is security. It's not an issue yet because people have been sending fairly innocuous data like height, width and weight of products. But it becomes a new ball game with relatively specific data like price or special shipping terms. So security will be a big issue to resolve before we have a GDSN that is truly reliable and secure. Transora has opened itself up to external security audits in the last few years.
SN: When will price and promotion synchronization become standards like item synchronization?
Sprieser: It's political because of the data security issue. The [direct-store-delivery] community pushed us to get it out because they didn't see the standards bodies agreeing on standards for some time. So we launched price and promotion synchronization in February for DSD and will do it for warehouse products in the fourth quarter. We work with the standards bodies and give our experience with what's working and what's not.
SN: In July, Safeway and Unilever announced they were synchronizing data through their data pools, WorldWide Retail Exchange and Transora, respectively. How close is this to GDSN?
Sprieser: The GDSN vision is that data is registered with the Global Registry and then flows between trading partners. Safeway and Unilever are not using the Global Registry; because we're interoperable with WWRE, they didn't need the Registry. It remains to be seen when and how the Registry gets inserted into these relationships.
SN: What's the status of the Global Registry?
Sprieser: Data pools are getting tested now to see if they can send data to it. We and a few others passed a beta test showing we could send a couple of items back and forth. No one is certified yet -- certification standards will come later this year. So the Registry has a ways to go before it's in production. But the spirit of GDSN is live -- we all believe that a standard network is the best and lowest cost option for the industry. Meanwhile, Transora can send a half-million items to retailers around the world via our own connections, not using GDSN.