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Achieving Progress Together

ProImpSpr2016How industry collaboration drives cross-industry evolution.

With a renewed emphasis on creating consumer-centric supply chains, industry collaboration has become essential to effectively move businesses forward. Now is an exciting, yet tumultuous time across multiple industries, where disruption is the new normal. In the retail industry, for example, the consumer now demands access to information and to make purchases whenever and wherever they want. The food industry is focusing on the newfound empowerment of consumers, who need to know more about how their food is processed, where it comes from and its ingredients. In healthcare, patient safety is increasingly bolstered by new regulations for identification and tracking of drugs and medical devices.

Regardless of industry, companies across all sectors share similar core challenges. These challenges—ensuring safety, access to information, efficiency—are non-differentiating topics that represent major opportunities to collaborate, so that companies can then focus on what makes them competitively unique. To help them move forward in achieving these goals, industry leaders regularly join together through industry initiatives, in collaboration with GS1 US, to agree upon best practices and standards. This work has been shown to reduce supply chain redundancy, streamline operations and improve consumer experiences.

Another common thread among these initiatives is data quality—more specifically, how to improve the state and governance of data to effectively harness it for the increasing points of data use and greater reliance on electronic data. The most forward-thinking companies today are viewing data as a strategic asset and a powerful tool in today’s marketplace. Using a standardized approach, each supply chain partner has the opportunity to efficiently bring their data to the basic level of usability, clearing the way for an improved focus on each company’s “secret sauce.” Let’s take a look at how standards work, and some examples of the way data is being leveraged through standards-based collaboration.

Collaborating on Standards

Collaboration between stakeholders is possible when a common language of standards can enable supply chain participants to understand and act on information with agility and precision. Organizations across more than 25 industries leverage the common language of GS1 Standards—including various types of barcodes and Electronic Product Code (EPC)-enabled radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. The cornerstone of this system is the Global Trade Item Number (or GTIN), also known as a Universal Product Code (U.P.C.). A GTIN uniquely identifies a trade item and can be encoded into a barcode or an EPC-enabled RFID tag to track individual items as they move through the supply chain. It is increasingly required for products listed on popular e-commerce marketplaces, too.

Creating unique identification that does not leverage interoperability can mean inconsistent data exchanges between trading partners. This can result in incorrect and out-of-date product information in a time when the consumer expects trustworthy information. Additionally, data consistency is growing in importance, as a product’s lifecycle is almost never-ending when you consider the ability to constantly buy and sell goods through e-commerce marketplaces. Industry collaboration through GS1 Standards helps trading partners agree on scalable, repeatable processes—leading to the complete and accurate data needed to respond to growing consumer demands.

To gain a full picture of standards in action, here are two examples in radically different industries that illustrate the power of collaboration via standards.

Bridging the Gap

In retail, one of the biggest challenges for trading partners has become effectively bridging the gap between what customers can expect in a brick-and-mortar setting, with what they can find online. A unified sales approach, referred to as omni-channel strategy, can include innovative product fulfillment options such as buy online pick-up in store and buy in-store and ship to home—all of which require consistent, accurate and reliable product data shared in real time to determine product availability.

Manufacturers and retailers are collaborating on item-level RFID implementation with the mutual goal of enhancing inventory visibility. By applying RFID tags to each individual item, trading partners can track the movement of data through many disparate systems—a critical enabler of omni-channel success. Item level RFID raises inventory accuracy to near-perfect levels, allowing retailers to sell products which were previously not visible and therefore, unsellable. Taking a standards-based approach, retailers can gain quick insight and make speedier decisions about stock rotation and the type of inventory required at any specific e-tail or store location. Retailers can be more nimble, leading fewer incidences of out-of-stocks and overall more seamless customer experiences.

Interoperable standards and trading partner collaboration are vital to achieving omni-channel success. The deployment of RFID in retail is a good example of how supply chain fulfillment challenges can evolve into new sales opportunities if trading partners can collaborate to deliver on the customer’s expectations.

Safer Outcomes The pharmaceutical industry is currently collaborating on the global standard called the Electronic Product Code Information Service (EPCIS) to meet immediate and long term requirements of the drug safety legislation passed in 2013 called the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA). The Act outlines critical steps to build an electronic, interoperable system to identify and trace prescription drugs as they move through the supply chain.

EPCIS has been supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a communication method for reporting transactional information and provides the data attributes and message structure needed to support compliance with the information handling and retrieval provisions of the DSCSA. With its extreme scalability and versatility, EPCIS allows for healthcare industry-specific enhancements to be implemented using a number of GS1 barcodes and data carriers. In addition, EPCIS is a global standard—leveraging standards to meet specific geographic or market needs helps trading partners meet DSCSA requirements and improve global supply chain efficiency.

There are many trading partner pilots underway this year that leverage EPCIS according to industry recommendations for adoption. Recently, TraceLink announced the completion of a successful EPCIS pilot program. In the fall of 2015, TraceLink worked with a top-five pharmaceutical manufacturer and top wholesale distributor to develop, deploy and test serialization data exchange pilots for commercialized product using EPCIS. These pilots were tested real-world scenarios, including the preparation, exchange and verification of serialized product information in a production environment for commercial product. They reported high operational speed and the maintenance of a high level of efficiency.

These two examples merely scratch the surface of what can be achieved through collaboration based on the GS1 System of Standards. Through broad collaboration with multiple industries, we are able to see the progress that can be achieved when trading partners work together. These standards are powerful—millions of companies have leveraged them for more than four decades, and it seems that almost every year, industry finds new ways that standards can help move innovation forward. Taking a step back to look at the larger universe in which your business exists can be a challenge for industries, but in the end, standards-based collaboration is proof that it can lead to unimaginable growth and the opportunity to evolve.

Siobhan O’Bara is senior vice president of industry engagement with GS1 US. This article appears as the Process Improvement feature in the spring 2016 issue of Management Today.

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