Gotcha! Watch Your Steps With Scan-Based TradingBy Sean Gallagher | Posted 2003-03-01 Print
Fortunately, there are standards bodies working to solve that problem for you. The Uniform Code Council and EAN International, the two organizations governing bar-code standards worldwide, are currently building a directory, called UCCnet, which will let retailers electronically locate and synchronize with supplier data. So far, according to Steve Arens, UCC's senior director of market development, UCCnet has just over 300 companies signed up for the service.
To take advantage, retailers will have to modify their software to handle larger identification numbersthe Global Trading Identification Number, or GTIN.
The GTIN unifies the two predominant product identification systems in the worldthe UCC's UPC, and EAN International's European Article Numbering. The UPC and EAN are 12 and 13 digits each, respectively, including a last digit for error correction; the GTIN adds more digits to each to create a 14-digit identification number. The GTIN will be used as the basis for the next new bar-code standard, called Reduced Size Symbology (RSS), which UCC and EAN hope to roll out completely by January 2005.
Another key piece of UCCnet's scheme is the Global Location Number (GLN), a number that identifies where suppliers are physically and electronically, to speed trading. And to make it even more structured, both the GTIN and the GLN are part of UCCnet's Global Data Dictionarya directory structure that defines item attributes and other requirements for synchronization. The goal of UCCnet is to provide a way for retailers to browse suppliers' data, and synch all references to their products.
To solve this problem, the Auto-ID Center at MIT is developing the Electronic Product Code (EPC), a 28-digit number that can be used with radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips and other electronic labels to give each product its own unique identifier. However, wide acceptance of EPC is a number of years away.
"The systems are structured for 12 or 13 digits now," says UCC's Arens. To take advantage of the GTIN and UCCnet, he says, "They have to go to 14 digits." Most major retailers are already set up for up to 13 digits, since an international standard uses that many, but most U.S. grocers still can only handle UPC's 12 digits.
AMR analyst Abell says smart companies will make room for 28-digit Electronic Product Codes "to avoid having to fix it later."
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