Behind RFID's dazzling potential to speed the collection and transfer of data is a decidedly mundane but vital effort to clean up the data being sent. Just how mundane? Like making sure everyone who makes or sells garbage cans agrees that the product is two pieces--a lid and a bottom.
That's the kind of detail being hammered out in committees around the retail and consumer-products industries in an effort to synchronize data. And while few retailers are embracing radio-frequency identification with the vigor that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. are, data synchronization is a priority at most large retailers.
The goal is for retailers and their suppliers to talk about products the same way when it comes to names, descriptions, and attributes. Getting that right provides a foundation for initiatives such as RFID. "Otherwise, it's bad data, just sent faster," Peggy Spofford, RFID/UCCNet project manager at 3M Co., said at the Retail Systems show last week.
Key to data-synchronization efforts is the UCCNet registry, a central repository for product data with more than 3,000 subscribers. Getting that data ready for UCCNet is hard, since it requires finding all the ways a company stores product and price information and delivers it to customers. Companies subscribe to a data-exchange service provider, such as Transora or the Worldwide Retail Exchange, to connect to the registry.
3M subscribed to UCCNet registry in November 2002 and connected to its first retailer last December, spending more than a year mapping product data to the various places it resides in the company. Said Spofford: "It's a difficult process to go through, but it's absolutely essential."