Up until recently, it took a hodgepodge of faxes, phone calls, e-mails and EDI to figure out the simple substances product pricing, specifications, availability and shipping addresses. The same has been true throughout the worlds of retail and consumer package goods.
Some observers believe that untangling this communications bedlam was a major trigger behind IBMs acquisition of Trigo last March. The move would help expand the role of PIM (product information management) in the enterprise, the thinking went.
Indeed, IBM users are now implementing the inherited PIM technology for supply chain visibility in a number of ways: supplier portals, regulatory compliance databases, RFID (radio frequency identification) support, and integration with B2B markets through GDS (global data synchronization ), according to Dan Druker, IBMs director of PIM, in an interview with eWEEK.com.
Through GDS initiatives, companies are being asked to report highly granular product information in a specified format to data pools—which are essentially huge databases—around the world. The information is then validated against a global data registry. If the product is toothpaste, for example, PIM might extend to flavor, size and type of packaging.
"The beauty of GDS is that the same information is sent from manufacturers to all suppliers," Druker said. "It serves as a central version of the truth. From there, it can then be customized for retailers. Retailers like to have some stuff thats unique to them."
Specific applications of PIM technology hinge on the needs of the customer. "Weve been working with large retailers such as Albertson and Carrefour—and CPG [consumer packaged goods] makers such as Unilever and Proctor & Gamble—on GDS," Druker said.
But Druker also made it clear that IBM is interested in moving its PIM technology into vertical markets, ranging from automotive to health care, for instance.
Now being integrated into IBMs WebSphere middleware, IBMs emerging PIM technology already supports multiple GDS data pools for the retail/consumer packaged goods industry, including Transora, UCCnet and the Worldwide Retail Exchange, for instance.
Meanwhile, WebSphere is also adding RFID support. "RFID is only one way of tracking [product] information—but it happens to be very tightly integrated with GDS," Druker said.
On the other hand, Druker readily acknowledged that many product suppliers have been less than enthusiastic about complying with retailers RFID initiatives.
"Some of them have been looking at RFID as sort of a tax for doing business," he told eWEEK.com.