Digital product content: how to make your ERP system your single source of truth

May 04, 2016
The equivalent of a full-time job. That’s how much time the average company spends on manually entering product information into various types of retailer databases. A daunting task, to say the least — especially as the need for digitizing product information is increasing by the day. Even in sectors like the food industry, more and more products are being distributed through e-commerce channels, while EU regulations state that online purchasers should have access to exactly the same information as consumers buying a particular product in-store.

The digitization and online distribution of product information is a major and constant challenge for food manufacturers and retailers alike, that much is certain. These and other companies can definitely reap the rewards of a global and uniform product information database. That’s exactly where GDSN comes in.

A worldwide data network

GS1’s Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) enables manufacturers, retailers, third-party partners and customers to exchange product information with each other. Simply put, manufacturers can upload their product information in a well-structured way, while retailers can request the desired product data and display it to their customers. This month, in May 2016, GS1 will be rolling out the brand-new GDSN Major Release 3 —making now the perfect time to reveal how you can unleash the network’s full potential.

Room for automation

As product recipes and circumstances constantly change, the product information in GDSN has to be updated frequently. To do so, many manufacturers manually or semi-automatically upload their data — a cumbersome process when you have thousands of products in various types of packaging. Not to mention the number of data inconsistencies that can and will arise during the manual uploading process. What’s more, once you have uploaded all the information, you’ll soon need to restart the process of tracking changes in product formulas, recipes, production processes, new product launches, etc.

How to find your single source of truth in three steps

One thing is clear: to digitize production information, manufacturers need a central database system to maintain all of their product content. And ideally, there is an automatic connection between this database and the GDSN network.

Additional dedicated software packages are often promoted for this purpose. This may be the way to go for large companies, but in many cases, this solution will lead to isolated product information. Even further, you will probably need numerous interfaces within your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

Here’s a thought on how to tackle this issue. Your ERP system already holds a vast chunk of your product information. So why not use ERP as your main and complete product content database system? No extra software needed, and no data duplication due to adding another database system to deal with. Instead, you publish your product info the way it is defined in your core database system.

This ‘single source of truth’ is just three steps away:

  1. build a GDSN framework within your ERP system;
  2. connect this framework to GDSN via automated XML messages;
  3. distribute your product information to the GDSN network via automatically generated XML messages.

The result? The very same system you use to define and maintain your products, describe and register how they are produced, perform quality checks, and store packing and shipping information is now fully connected to the GDSN network. In other words, mission accomplished: you have found your single source of truth.

Struggling to get your product information to your customer? Let’s find your single source of truth!

Author: Michael Bulthé. Connect with Michael on LinkedIn.