Software Solutions Available To Help Retailers Manage Data
Today, software providers that offer enterprise management systems are also incorporating more sophisticated centralized master data management tools and modules into their packaged offerings.
Retalix, for example, which offers a broad suite of IT solutions for grocery retailers as well as other industry segments, includes among its centralized data management tools an application designed specifically to help retailers import product data from a number of sources. The variety of data streams the program can handle include downloads from the GDS network, as well as data from Web portals and EDI-style transmissions like flat files.
Retalix also offers a tool that allows retailers to build and host their own portal site where vendors who are not part of the GDS network can input their product data.
Whatever method is used to pipe in the data, Retalix's software is preconfigured to handle supplier functions like presenting new items, changing items and discontinuing items, notes product solutions manager Susan Boehn. Other activities supported by the software include transmission of proof-of-purchase data to support accrual compensation programs, shipments, store sales and proof-of-scan data, adds Todd Michaud, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Retalix USA, Dallas.
The company introduced this set of tools last fall, and is currently working on initial installations with some early adopters. One client, for example, has begun using the portal function to provide information for a VMI project.
"It's enabling the company's vendors to supply ad information electronically, to be used in adjusting forecasts for replenishing its warehouse," Boehn notes.
While portals are not part of the global data synchronization vision, most observers agree they will remain a fact of life for the foreseeable future. While most "tier one" suppliers have already synchronized their data, and many second-tier suppliers are starting to follow suit, there will probably always be some exceptions, observes Karen Romanov, research director at AMR Research, Boston.
Web-based supplier portals hosted by retailers are a solution, though not necessarily an attractive one from suppliers' point of view, says Ed Licul, worldwide GDS strategy leader with the WebSphere Product Center of IBM Software Group.
For retailers, creating a portal represents an extra expense, but it is a one-time proposition. Once in place, portals provide a fairly headache-free way for retailers to gather information from non-conforming vendors to merge with product data downloaded from the public pools.
For suppliers, however, the prospect of entering and updating their data at multiple retailer portals, each with different formats and procedures, could represent a considerable burden.
"That's why I tell suppliers they should be driving GDS like a racehorse, because it's really in their best interest to publish their data only once, through the synchronized pools," Licul points out.
Early on, there may have been some concerns over the security of proprietary data housed in a public repository, but these have largely been erased. Although the information is stored in a common, "public" pool, this does not mean all data can be accessed by any subscriber. The security architecture allows companies that publish data to determine which information held in the pool can be accessed by each subscriber. —C.C.