Commport offers B2B solution for retail suppliers

In an effort to help customers conduct trade with large retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Home Depot Inc. and A&P, a Canadian e-commerce company — Commport Communications International Inc. — is offering a new Uniform Code Council Inc. (UCCnet) service to help companies from losing money from supply chain errors, bottlenecks and time-to-market delays.

UCCnet is a global, Internet-based e-commerce service run by the Aurora, Ont.-based Uniform Code Council, with the purpose of standardizing the way products are described. The organization says these errors cost industry tens of billion dollars per year. UCCnet is currently in the process of encouraging companies to replace the Universal Product Codes (UPCs) by the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) — a standard 14-digit number used to describe a product. Each GTIN is unique.

“Universal product codes are anything but universal,” said Mark Cote, manager of specialized services for Commport in Aurora, Ont., explaining that for example, a supplier that sells pens might have to describe the pen with numerous different codes to sell to different retailers. A supplier might sell to two retailers — Retailer A and Retailer B — and if Retailer A used 12-digit codes and Retailer B used 10-digit codes, then the supplier would have to ascribe two UPC codes to one product. These discrepancies can cause a host of problems, such as retailers receiving or ordering the wrong product or incorrect quantities.

To combat these sorts of errors UCCnet is trying to get companies to standardize on a 14-digit code system — the GTIN — whereby each product has its own unique identifying number. Some companies such as Wal-Mart are in fact insisting that its suppliers subscribe to this system if they want to do business with it.

That’s where Commport comes in. The company is licensing bTrade’s Item Sync software, which provides a platform for companies to organize their data and to register their GTIN codes with UCCnet. While the company can buy the product directly from bTrade, Commport is licensing the product, and will build some services to it and sell it as a service called Product and Item Number Technology (PAINT).

With bTrade being a small player in the B2B and e-commerce space competing against companies such as IBM Corp., SeeBeyond Technology Corp., webMethods Inc. and Tibco Software Inc., this is a pretty big win for bTrade in terms of getting an OEM out there, said Shawn Willett, principal analyst with Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va.

Commport’s Cote said bTrade was selected because its product allows the company to add extra components to the platform. For example, as products evolve, they have different codes and names attributed to them. Commport is going to add a componenet so its users can track the evolution of each product historically by its related codes and names.

The functionality provided by bTrade will let users input new products and register their GTIN numbers. Commport is going to offer PAINT as a monthly-subscription service with an initial fee for registering. When users register, Commport will essentially take all their prouduct data — no matter what the format, whether it is in a database, on a disk, or in a physical file, Commport will organize and consolidate the data for them. This includes registering their products with UCCnet and getting GTIN codes ascribed to each product.

“The one time [initial] fee is for registering products,” Cote explained. “It’s a clean and scrub component because most people’s data is in various states of disrepair.”

When the service is up and running, and Commport has enough clients, it will be able to become one of UCCnet’s Solution Partners, also known as a third-party data pool. That means Commport’s PAINT clients will not only have access to Commport’s data, but to UCCnet’s data as well.

Cote says this service is geared towards customers that sell to retailers, including manufacturers and distributors. Since many large retail companies are demanding their suppliers conform to UCCnet protocols, a ripple effect is occurring, where the suppliers are being forced to comply or lose money, and the distributors who sell to these retailers are also in the position where they have to force their suppliers to conform to GTIN.

As a result, Current Analysis’s Willett says this a big growth area, and said users can benefit from using a solution such as Commport’s as opposed to going it alone.

“The benefits of an outsource is that you don’t have to fiddle around with your internal system,” he said. “It means less time and less hassle.”

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