In the early days of third-party logistics service providers, 3PLs were primarily pass-through organizations. Today, though, full-service 3PLs have to be able to handle all aspects of the logistics operation — including technology integration.
“They must be able to execute orders, ensure data integrity and manage exceptions while offering technologies for e-commerce and adapting all data to their customer's system,” points out Joe Andraski, managing director of the Voluntary Inter-Industry Commerce Standards Association (VICS).
When it comes to data gathering, this year's hottest technology — radio frequency identification (RFID) — holds out tremendous promise for inventory management. However, if you don't get the base information right, RFID will just move bad information faster.
“If your product master is out of alignment, you'll spend buckets of money on labels with incorrect information,” explains Andraski.
Committees within VICS are currently working on data synchronization — getting the information right and moving it reliably.
“In VICS, we bring trade partners together to work out agreements on product attributes and processes. Then we put these agreements into effect through the Global Standards Management Process (GSMP) to update the standards that are the basis of global data synchronization. A majority of our members use UCCnet to provide their data synchronization services. If a 3PL is managing a customer's database, product master, call center, or customer service, they must be aware of and able to use these synchronization services,” Andraski elaborates.
Andraski is working with the UCC's Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) expanded 13-digit bar code. “If a 3PL is engaged in collaborative commerce, it must have GTINs or a global ID so it can exchange information from customer orders to customers,” he notes. “The 3PL must connect with the information network and do the data synchronization piece to ensure all data are accurate.”
GTIN takes effect in January 2005, Andraski states. “All companies are supposed to have systems ready to accommodate the 13-digit barcode by January 1, 2005.” The GTIN bar code will be used internationally, eventually replacing the multiple bar code numbering system currently used.
“The Universal Product Code (UPC) in North America corresponds to the European Article Numbering (EAN) in the rest of the world, but the numbers are different in UPC and EAN. Ideally, we should have only one bar code number system, harmonized throughout the world,” insists Andraski.
This harmonization process has been in the works for 10 years and it will be several more years until implementation is complete.
For more information on data synchronization and bar coding, click here