So you want to sell your products on the internet?

Product data standards? Which ones? What’s a GDSN?

If you’re doing business electronically you know that compliance with on-line data standards is necessary to get in the game.  For example, if you’re an EDI shop, then you know about “standards” like ANSI X12 that help trading partners “speak the same language” when exchanging EDI documents on-line.  EDI paired with a leased line or VAN provides a highly secure and available means of doing transactional business.  Unfortunately, only about 2% of companies decide to invest in EDI and ANSI isn’t the only game in town when it comes to data standards.

Enter the e-selling experience on the internet and the proliferation of data standards that can be downright overwhelming.   In the early internet days of ecommerce, there was fear and resistance that data standards would only hasten the commoditization of a company’s products. The worry was that price would become the ONLY thing that mattered to the web consumer.  Many companies were reluctant to serve up structured product data fearing that it would allow a web shopper to “compare” their products to the competition.  Some companies chose not to include pricing.  Sadly, that practice didn’t work because price is a critical element in the customer’s selection and ordering decision process.   Lastly, some just hoped that the world of paper would somehow prevail.  Sadly, we all know what happened to the JC Penney and Sears catalogs.

Welcome to today’s omni-channel and the normalization and synchronization of everything for the web.  Bottom line, like it or not, if your product data isn’t suitable for the digital marketplace together with prices, photos and other mandatory “standard” attributes needed for selling through channel partners or direct, you are pretty much out of the game.

EDI processes aside, product data standards for the internet is where things get tricky.  Navigating the world of product data standards from GS1, EClass , ETIM, UNSPSC are acronyms that take some getting used to.  These standards organizations are all presumably helping to simplify the on-line digital experience for consumers / buyers.   And, the value proposition for each one is pretty much the same; by aligning your product data with these standards, you will save money.  Really?

Remember the GDSN (Global Data Synchronization Network) which changed its name to 1Sync to presumably get better brand recognition in light of the “synchronization and normalization” buzz phrase for product data?   It’s not bad to be GS1 or UNSPSC compliant, but just like EDI, there are costs involved in getting there.  More importantly, understanding which standards affect your company and industry takes some digging.  Fortunately, there are folks like us around that have been down this road before.  If you need a little help, we can help you speed up the process.  We’d love to hear from you.

Next, what about standards for other non-data stuff like product photos, videos, drawings, etc.?  More about (DAM) Digital Asset Management standards later.

Have you been part of a new Product Launch?

Inspired by overwhelming response on our blogs, we decided to share some things about product launch processes as it relates to the supply chain in the electrical industry. Sure, your situation could be unique…

First question is – who in the heck launches products in a big manufacturing company for consumption to their trading partners?. Well, not tied to 1-one individual. Think of a consortium of Product Managers, Engineers, Plant Managers, Master Schedulers, Finance Controllers, Analysts, and finally Customer Service.

Yes, believe it or not customer service is a major component. No wonder why some companies do not do well in the long run when doing cost cutting and outsourcing their customer service.

These are some high level steps to consider to get basic data for stocked and non-stocked products for Trading Partner’s consumption when a new product is launched.

Step 1: Product Managers coordinates team consisting of Customer Service, Engineering, Manufacturing Managers, Finance Controller/Analyst, Master Scheduler, Plant personals and Product Information in light of a product launch process

Step 2: Product Management contacts Customer Service and requests that a product be profiled and loaded into their Legacy or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system – homegrown or store bought!
Customer Service is supplied with all the required information to load product profiles into such a system

Step 3: Customer Service uploads these to ERP to create the product profiles. Profiles are initially coded with a specific indicator also called Authorization code to differentiate a product being launched OR a product that is already launched for sale. This also prevents trading partners ordering a yet-to-be-launched product erroneously. Example could be “XX” for products being launched and “YY” for previously launched products and ready for receiving order.

Step 4: After product profiles are loaded into ERP system, generally it takes a certain amount of time to further create its GTIN, commercial reference, SKU, catalog number or part number in the repository. Have you ever searched for a part number in Amazon to see whether you need a replacement?

Step 5: Customer Service advises product launch team when products are loaded and available in the system with a marker “XX”

Step 6: Product Launch team then works with several people in the company:
a) Create or determine whether a product is going to be a standard product or a configured product based on forecasting data
b) Engineering to create Bill of Materials (BOM), Routing and Revision (Versioning). Once completed then Costing is determined in order to release in the ERP system
c) For Stocked products, a workflow is needed and created. Separate templates are invoked for legacy and ERP systems that are required by manufacturing plants to fill out including ordering information. Again, working with Customer Service
d) Warehouse team sets up products to be stocked in specific location or distribution centers
e) Product Information team fills in the blank for certain Industry specific information such as United Nations Standard Products and Services Code (UNSPSC) depending on the product line, provide marketing materials and specific trading partner desired data points

Step 7: When the information about product is completed then marketing contacts Customer Service to change the XX indicator to YY in order to designate the products are now release for sale

Step 8: Product Launch team now archives the entire process with data in a secured repository or a content management system for legal and record retention

The big question is how long it generally takes? Again, it depends.

Let’s say all of the above steps are done in a timely manner. How long it takes AFTER to have these products in trading partner’s lap? Well, in most well-oiled manufacturing companies this process takes several weeks if not months. Again after getting all the data accumulated by the Product Launch Team.

However, dataZen Engineering guarantees the data to be in trading partners lap within 2-Two weeks from the date the data is accumulated following our Legendary Quality Assurance processes supporting the entire end-to-end data flow.

An example of data points:

How a conglomerate that makes equipment for the aerospace and building industries eliminates Non-Productive Activity… ahh, scanning a Barcode???


With a market cap of $115B, one of the world’s largest aircraft engine manufacturers bought state-of-the-art CNC machines with OSP 300 controls installed to cut very complex and intricate parts that go into aircraft engines.

Let us tell you a little about what in the heck are OSP 300 controls. Well, Okuma makes one of the best Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines in the world. They recently opened a factory of the future called “DS2” – Dream factory in Japan that is every bit of a smart factory. Now the CNCs we are talking about are very advanced 5 Axis milling beasts. For instance, it takes a concrete maker expert to level it where it is supposed to be installed. These are certainly not for the typical job shops. The ones we are talking about are called MU8000 Vertical Machining Centers. The control on them called OSP 300 is also built by Okuma. The Numerical Control software on them runs on MS windows and that’s where we come in. Gotta love these OSP 300 controls!

So, like any other manufacturing plant in the world, these very advanced machines need highly skilled machine operators. They are not your typical Joe Blow. Again, they are Skilled Machinists. It is a joy to watch them operate these machines in real time.

We don’t want these machinist having to waste time poking around in MS Windows, do we? They are there to run these amazing engineering marvels and not learn MS Windows. They need to be able to load a part into the chuck of the machine, close door, find the right CNC part program, select and load it and finally hit cycle start. Of course, there is more to that right? Like where do they find the part program, who gave them to run, which specific part program, are there any sub-programs associated or call outs, what if the part program needs to be edited for correction? The final result is that a CNC Machine cuts the expensive part and out comes a shiny new thing that eventually goes into an aircraft engine. Amazing huh!

Now, here’s where dataZen Engineering comes in. Inspired by these highly skilled machinists and their process challenges, we came up with a better idea. Goal was to allow these CNC machinists on the 5-axis machines to work even more efficiently.

What and how???

For instance these ultra modern CNC machines are capable of connecting to their Automation Local Area Network (LAN).  Leveraging the LAN, we kept the CNC Part Programs securely stored on a network server, not on the control itself. Security is a critical business driver for this. Next, we wrote an application that scans the operator’s badge#, pulls out the appropriate part program(s), sub-programs etc. from the secured automation network, applies validation, and loads them directly into the CNC machine showing various colors for status of the part program that was scanned – Red (couldn’t find or load), Yellow (searching in the vast connected network) and Green (found to select and load) and ready for the operator to hit Cycle Start. Amazing huh? This is Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in action where Humans and devices are connected through technology and a process.

Now if the operator steps away momentarily then guess what happens? The HMI screen of the CNC machine goes into an automatic lock mode. Meaning no one else other than the assigned CNC machine operator can unlock and kick-off the operation again.

dataZen Engineering’s application, called P-SCANNER provided a highly skilled machinist with the ability to scan a barcode from a manufacturing order (MO) or a Traveller and load the associated part program automatically either from local machine folder or from over the network. When the barcode is successfully scanned, the associated program details are populated on the screen in color codes and ready for the operator to hit the cycle start!

Did we eliminate some non-productive time? You bet we did.

Learn more about our productivity platform for the shop floor Learn More

Okay, you implemented SAP. Awesome. But how do you get a simple list of active products from SAP?

In SAP or any other packaged ERP solutions a “Plant” can be a manufacturing location or a distribution center(DC). So output for each plant or DC will generally be a separate record. Guess what that is like multiple records for each product, right?. Well, okay. That is good from a SAP perspective but not good enough for catering data to supply chain network or partner network and in a certain interval.

Lets start with how do you eliminate these duplicate records?

So, essentially to eliminate duplicate records, we will need to write some logic to pull the data records in a certain order so there is only one unique record per product in the output.
DC 1 (Location 1)
DC 2 (Location 2) for items not stocked in DC 1
DC 3 (Location 3) for items not stocked in DC 1 or DC 2
Country specific Primary Manufacturing Plant if not stocked in any of these DCs.
On top, you may exclude certain other location etc. etc.

The first step is to review the list of products that are in scope or rather SHOULD BE in scope and whether they are for retail or channel. Then go the route of Plant or DC specific in SAP.

Ya Ya Ya… but remember we need other information as well. How about extended or enriched descriptions, marketing features and benefits. Those are not in SAP. Should they be? We don’t know… it depends on your business and how it is setup. More importantly how much money you dropped to implement SAP as vanilla or with a lot of customization.

This is where you need an expert who has to BUILD the above logic for you based on the gazillion business rules that are available in SAP or otherwise.

Got it. Well, your trading partners still needs the data in a certain frequency. What’s that?

SAP or other ERP systems generally has a way to automate the logic, the layout AND the frequency of delivery including the format associated. Text, CSV, XML (ooohh!) and certainly NOT MS Excel. If you want MS Excel then just hire a temp perhaps to keep an eye for the generated file above in a specific area of SAP, grab it, use their amazing MS Excel skills. I am sure they would wow you with Pivot table concepts.

Anyways, that someone would have to get the file and save to their local PC (hopefully not a MAC!) in the format needed and then manually push it…hmm…FTP out to a certain server! Really??? Don’t we have bots these days?

Well, just email dataZen Engineering… we will do this for you by applying some technology we learned over the years. I wish we could say free. Its some work but not a whole lot. We do need to work with your ERP technical consultants though. Functional consultants will beat around the bush so to speak!

Once setup though, you can forget about it until a new business rule or process is created. Yes, you get to launch your NEW products for Home Depot, Lowes, Menards, etc.

(Check out our blog on GDSN soon. Whatever the heck that means!)

How do you conduct a Price Increase process in a supply chain?

In the electrical industry supply chain it is important for the manufacturer to provide product and pricing data well in advance for the electronic commerce of the business. That means the future effective prices are to be supplied at least 45 – 60 days in advance to the channel partners i.e., industrial distributors like Grainger, Graybar, etc. for planning and stocking purposes and the retail powerhouses like Home Depot, Lowes, Menards etc.

What about including any product obsolescence to the mix? Say a certain line of products have a newer product release that replaced the older ones. How do you communicate the cross reference from the old to the new ones? Is it based on form, fit and functions or a direct replacement? How do you ensure to maintain the data integrity all the way until the data is ingested in the down stream processes?

dataZen Engineering created an unique system and a process. We worked with the manufacturer’s product Information and pricing teams along with the associated data exchange pools to schedule & implement future pricing data well in advance. And, communicate any product obsolescence. When the future prices are effective, dataZen Engineering automatically notifies the distributors via data exchange pools of a price change on the effective date on time and before schedule. That also includes communicating effectively and technically to the retail power houses.

How do we do that? Well, first we focus on the process as it exists today. Then we looked for process improvements and finally simplified the process using the right technology. Again, it is the process that comes first and technology later.

ERP, Engineering, Data Management, Arrrggh…

When a product is launched by marketing, it is generally categorized and profiled in an Enterprise Resource Planning System (ERP). Master data about the product is made available that consists of part number, description, pricing, availability, etc. Meanwhile, Engineering normally stores product models and CAD drawings in a CAD/CAM system or a Product Information Management (PIM) system.  And, Product Information or Marketing Communications creates product images, catalogs, brochures, hand outs etc., using desktop publishing applications enabled by Document Management or Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems.  Lastly, the company’s website needs it’s own Web Content Management (WCM) System. Thus, the data about products does not live in one system. The source of truth is multiple systems.  And, more often than not, integrating the various systems is cost prohibitive. However, aggregating and delivering the right information from multiple systems is a must-have for channel partners or retailers to use for their websites or in-store merchandising efforts.

dataZen Engineering created a process that allows product data to reside in their respective systems and bring information about the product into a common platform using technology for the sole purpose of providing “All about data” to data exchange pools, channel and retail consumption whether it is a product description, an engineering drawing, enriched content based on product attributes, images, videos, etc.

Additionally, we created a system called Business Services Layer (BSL) applying the principles of Machine Learning and Big Data concepts. Example: BSL can read social media content and already synchronized product information internally to provide with an end result, a set of very rich product information for your B2B or B2C consumers

Read more about getting your data ready for e-Commerce.  Learn more