PLEASANTON, Calif. -- Safeway here has completed a data synchronization test with Unilever in one of the first efforts in North America to synchronize item data under new global standards between interoperable data pools.
The test is a forerunner of an emerging Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) expected to launch at the end of the month under the auspices of the Uniform Code Council and EAN International.
In the Safeway-Unilever test, Safeway's data pool, which coordinated the synchronization of its data, was the WorldWide Retail Exchange (WWRE), Alexandria, Va.; Unilever's data pool was Chicago-based Transora. Using standards developed for GDSN, product information moved from Unilever to Transora, and then to WWRE and on to Safeway.
"This is the first time we're using WWRE as an intermediary for data synchronization," said Brad Fox, Safeway's vice president and treasurer. The project, he added, reflects the retailer's "focus on the supply chain to bring down costs for sourcing products." Safeway is a founding member of WWRE, formed in 2000.
Roger Lekberg, senior vice president, supply chain, for Safeway, noted in a statement that "Safeway and Unilever have demonstrated that by adopting industry standards, critical product information exchange between manufacturers and retailers can be achieved in a scalable and rapid manner."
Data synchronization ensures that retailers and manufacturers are using the same information about products, including description and dimensions, thereby preventing billing and other costly errors. The technology has been spearheaded in the food industry by UCC through its subsidiary UCCnet, but the process is shifting to a global format under GDSN, including a Global Registry that will point trading partners to the appropriate data pool.
The Safeway-Unilever synchronization has proceeded without the Global Registry, which will be available at the end of this month, noted Nick Parnaby, chief marketing officer, WWRE. "We've put the cart before the horse," he said, adding that though GDSN and the Global Registry will be released on July 31, it will be some time before the registry will be ready for full usage.
Meanwhile, early synchronization projects, where trading partners know which data pools hold relevant data, can proceed without the registry, he said.
Safeway also employed a product information management (PIM) application from Velosel, Santa Clara, Calif., to manage internal processing of the synchronized data.
Last week, Safeway joined two other food retailers -- Albertsons and Ahold -- in sending a letter to 7,200 suppliers inviting them to start their item synchronization process "so you will be fully ready to synchronize with us."
The letter suggested using WWRE as a data pool but did not establish that as a requirement. The letter ended by saying, "Soon you will receive individual letters from each of us with our detailed timelines and expectations for synchronizing item information with your company."
Safeway and Unilever plan to move the test phase of their project to a production mode by early August, according to Tod Manning, world sync solutions consultant for WWRE. The program will gradually expand to include all Unilever items carried by Safeway, including new items. Fox declined to specify Safeway's plans.
Unilever said that about 20 health-and-beauty products, including skin care items like hand-body lotions, were included in the initial synchronization test. The test encompassed around 50 GTINs (Global Trade Item Numbers) in all, including pallets, cases and displays. About 63 "mandatory" attributes were exchanged for each item, such as description, weight and dimensions. Unilever is looking at expanding the number of attributes and expects to include pricing when it becomes standardized, possibly by the end of the year.
Unilever is also engaged in synchronization with one major UCCnet-member retailer, and is in pilots with several other retailers. The manufacturer also hopes to incorporate the new Global Registry as soon as possible.
For its part, Safeway is expected to bring 25 major suppliers from different data pools into production for data synchronization by the end of the year, according to WWRE's Manning.
WWRE now has 181 suppliers in its data pools, as well as eight live retailers, with another 12 in the implementation phase, said Parnaby. WWRE's data pool can handle the 151 standard attributes published via the GSMP (Global Standards Management Process), as well as "flex fields" for future standard attributes, he said.
While Safeway and Unilever were the first synchronization partners between WWRE and Transora in North America, the data pools conducted an earlier proof of concept in Europe between Procter & Gamble and Coop Italia, which ended in February.
The Safeway-Unilever test, announced June 29, was completed on June 4, said Parnaby. A few weeks later a second similar test was completed with CVS and Gillette, he noted, adding that Ahold and Delhaize are also conducting tests now in Europe. CVS, Ahold and Delhaize use WWRE.
According to Manning, Ahold USA and Food Lion, also WWRE users, will begin interoperable data sync projects next month, while Albertsons, also with WWRE, will start one in the fourth quarter. WWRE has also previously hosted synchronization between retailers and suppliers who both use it as a data pool, said Parnaby; those retailers include Walgreens, Best Buy, Albertsons and Food Lion.
Last December, Walgreens, CVS and Eckerd asked WWRE to help get 2,500 of their suppliers ready for data synchronization, through WWRE or another data pool, said Barnaby, adding that so far 181 suppliers have signed up with WWRE, 25 of them common to both the drug and grocery sectors.
Parnaby said that for data pool services alone, WWRE charges retailers between $150,000 and $500,000.