Data synchronization can improve scan rates and provide more accurate inventory counts, as well as reduce errors and correction processes. Visibility to inventory and reduced error overheads will reduce costs. Rory Granros, director of industry and product marketing for process industries at Infor Global Solutions, Alpharetta, GA, believes that to achieve proposed inventory throughput, a combination of GDS, RFID and applications that support functions like cross-docking will speed inventory through distribution centers.
"Not only can products flow faster, but trucks can have a higher utilization level," says Pam Stegeman, vice president of supply chain and technology at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Washington. "One retailer I know used to plan trucks to 70 percent capacity because of inaccuracies in weights. Now they know the information they have is accurate and up to date, and therefore they can fill trucks to a higher capacity."
GDS proponents have stressed that the key to synchronization is data accuracy. Unless CPG manufacturers ensure that their product data accurately reflects the physical attributes of their products, the benefits of data synchronization will be lost.
"Data accuracy continues to be one of the most significant barriers to demand planning," says Symens of Rainmaker. He went on to explain how many retailers are providing inaccurate on-hand information in their activity files to vendors. If a vendor cannot rely upon the on-hand data they are receiving, there exists a significant gap in their decision-making toolkit.
Duffy of TDLinx agrees. "Unless a data accuracy methodology is developed that addresses the requirements of the market, you are looking at a scenario of exchanging bad data faster."
That is why the emphasis for the last several years has been on improving data accuracy. Most of the resources spent have been in this area. This has entailed cleaning up files and file structures and learning what and how to manage both within and between organizations.
"That is the foundation effort for moving forward," says Matt Pannier, managing director of AlixPartners, New York. "These investment activities—while not always easy to justify—are critical to the ultimate success of the data synchronization initiative."
At first, many CPG companies were focused solely on gathering all the attributes/data elements required to synchronize with retailers, as well as determining how the information would securely get from CPG to retailer. As those goals have been realized, CPGs have now turned their attention to building internal processes starting with the point of new product innovation all the way through to execution in the store.
"That is key to the success of data synchronization and we also believe that is what will allow the industry to achieve the highest level of benefits both inside their organizations and with their partners," says Ann Dozier, vice president, strategic industry initiatives, for The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta.
What's next for data synchronization and supply chain management? Executives polled by Food Logistics came up with several predictions.
"Data synchronization is the beginning of a greater level of automated data sharing," says Stegeman of GMA. She sees the industry realizing that in order to grow the top-line and better meet rapidly changing consumer needs, communications must be improved, demand data must be readily shared and emerging technologies must be fully leveraged.
"We must achieve mass adoption as an industry and continue to evolve the information shared from basic information to more advanced transactions," says Duffy of TDLinx. "This will allow us to achieve the highest level of supply chain efficiency and effectiveness and will allow us to leverage information to grow sales."
Dozier of Coca-Cola was also enthusiastic about the possibilities. "If we can get a good foundation of data in place, the opportunities are limitless to collaborate to achieve the highest level of supply chain efficiency and effectiveness."
For instance, price synchronization can eliminate the need for invoices, allowing retailers to pay for the information they have when they receive goods at the store. Also, the technology will allow more efficient receiving, creating collaborative partnerships to analyze activities and improve the supply chain.
"The ultimate goal will be to have the right product, in the right place, at the right time, in the right quantity, for the right price," she says.