Setting Data Standards
The purpose of any automatic identification and data collection (AIDC) system is to provide a quick and accurate way to enter data into an IT system. But the old maxim, garbage in, garbage out still applies. Without a consistent means to represent data within a bar code, RFID tag, XML, or other form of data exchange, there's no check on the quality of the data entering the system.
The proliferation of data standards appears to make trading partner data exchange more complex; but standards actually simplify it by establishing known formats that can be easily integrated into your own IT system. Dan Mullen, president of AIM Global, offers 10 tips to ensure that trading partner data meets your needs, as well as your upstream and downstream sources.
1. Investigate the data format and structure standards that pertain to your industry, and your customers' industries. You have to understand what these standards are before you move forward with your trading partners.
2. Determine whether your customers are aware of existing standards, and if they are capable of using them. Meet with them; see what they are doing internally and discuss how you can work together to make this happen.
3. Recognize that customers in different industry sectors may require different data standards. GS1 (formerly EAN/UCC), health care, automotive, government, defense, and other industry standards define the structure, content, and special features that are to be used in representing data.
4. Learn about the standards that pertain to your data-entry method. Bar codes, for example, are covered by symbology standards that define how a bar code is to be printed. ISO/IEC standards apply to specific applications, and RFID standards are currently being developed. Because these standards may affect the data stream coming from a reader, you need to understand them.
5. Understand that most data standards contain "overhead" characters. These characters are used to ensure that the correct data is entered into the system. Overhead characters should be stripped off before entering the data string into your IT system.
6. Educate IT personnel on the importance of conforming to existing standards. Make sure they are on top of this. Continual training is necessary.
7. Insist that your suppliers conform to these standards. You want your IT system to be streamlined and standardized. Compliance is important.
8. Become active in all relevant data synchronization activities and AIDC committees. Standardizing product descriptions facilitates data exchange at every level. Knowing what's on the horizon is important both for planning and to help ensure new standards are in harmony with existing high-level standards that you've implemented.
9. Develop corporate policies to ensure compliance internally and among trading partners. This must come from corporate, or it will be difficult to enforce and implement a streamlined data collection and identification system.
10. Once you've completed #9, start at #1 again, at regular intervals. Be prepared for the evolution of standards as new capabilities and technologies become available.