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August 2, 2006 

 Q&A: Robert Noe, CEO of Chicago-Based 1SYNC, on Data Synchronization 8/1/2006
The mission of Going Global, which appears on MidwestBusiness.com on most Tuesdays, is to educate and inform Midwest technology companies on what local technology companies are doing internationally so other firms can learn from the successes of like-minded peers.

CHICAGO – Robert Noe is responsible for the strategy and operations of Chicago-based 1SYNC and for ensuring its customer community receives value from data synchronization.

Before joining 1SYNC, Noe was chairman and CEO of technology provider ViaLink where he helped grow its customer base to 1,100 members. Prior to ViaLink, he worked at Electronic Data Systems for 14 years most recently as a vice president of industry solutions. At EDS, he developed industry-specific offerings in e-commerce, supply chain management and customer relationship management.

In part one of a three-part Q&A, Noe sat down with international expert Michael Muth to discuss what data synchronization is and why a company might need it.

Michael Muth: What brought Transora and UCCnet together to form 1SYNC?
Bob Noe: To give you some background, European article numbering (EAN) and the Uniform Code Council (UCC) – or EAN-UCC, which is also known as the EAN International-Uniform Code Council – was the equivalent to supply chain standards. Formally the EAN.UCC System, it included product bar codes that are printed on the great majority of products available in stores worldwide.

EAN International was the global office for more than 100 member organizations around the world. In 2005, the organization changed its name to GS1. The UCC was the numbering organization in the U.S. to administer and manage the EAN.UCC System. In 2005, the UCC changed its name to GS1 U.S.

UCCnet was a subsidiary of the UCC that focused on the implementation of data synchronization services (similar to what Transora did). Both Transora and UCCnet offered similar services. Between the two companies, the majority of the leading retailers and suppliers were covered. It made sense for us to merge and to combine our customer base and become a part of the GS1 family.

After the merger, there is much less market confusion regarding which data pool to opt for and we can now focus more aggressively on implementation. Since we can now spread our overhead costs across the organizations, we are able to lower the overall cost structure. This benefits everybody. We can also now compress the order-to-cash cycle much faster.

MM commentary: Interestingly, this is an acquisition of a for-profit company by a non-profit organization.

MM: What is data synchronization?
BN: Synchronization is the electronic transfer of product and location information (including pricing). The continuous synchronization of that data over time is referred to as data synchronization.

To be effective, data synchronization needs to be an ongoing business process and not solely a technology process. Data synchronization benefits various areas of an organization like logistics, transportation and new item introduction. Some examples of the information synchronized include product dimensions such as depth, size, height and weight.

MM commentary: Like many other technology issues, synchronizing data doesn’t do any good unless the synchronized data is used to improve the business. Synchronizing product dimensions can be problematic when crossing borders (i.e. think of the Challenger space shuttle, which confused metric measurements with English).

MM: How was data synchronization done before the Internet era?
BN: Very poorly and slowly. It was done in manual and non-systematic ways. This resulted in lots of errors and lost time due to data entry again and again. The methods used were fax machines, printed product catalogues, the telephone, handwritten notes and so on. It wasn’t an automated process and it suffered from a lack of efficiency.

MM commentary: Data synchronization is a basic automation play. It takes manual systems and allows the computer to coordinate the data automatically.

MM: What pain do users feel without data synchronization?
BN: There are the obvious pain points like a lack of speed for items to reach the marketplace, numerous invoice errors and product catalogue disparities. Even more important are the qualitative losses in terms of lost sales, logistical problems that start when a wrong order is placed due to inaccurate data or catalogue errors, which is compounded when that order moves through the entire fulfillment process.

This results in incurring huge return-shipment costs and other supply chain issues that affect the bottom lines of businesses. Accurate data synchronization also helps improve employee productivity where resources have the time to focus on doing their job and are not spent on fixing errors that could have been avoided.

MM commentary: Given the explosion in electronic data available today, data synchronization becomes even more important as the chances for data errors explodes commensurately with the data explosion.

MM: How much does it cost to synchronize my data?
BN: A relatively small amount when you compare it with the benefits one receives from it and also when compared to the costs spent on other functions of a business. The opportunity costs incurred when not synchronizing data are far greater than the costs we charge for our services.

We provide our services with an application service provider model. Our clients can use our services for a regular subscription. Costs are based on various factors like size, turnover of the company and annual sales. Depending on implementation methods and the availability of clean and accurate data, the costs for synchronizing data may vary.

MM commentary: When people start comparing opportunity costs, it usually sounds like it could be expensive.

Michael Muth is managing director of GATA, an international business development consultancy that helps technology companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at mike@intlalliances.com.
Click here for Muth’s full biography.

Previous Columns in 2006:
Q&A: Mike Jakob of Sportvision in Chicago on Creating Sports Innovation (7/11/2006)
Q&A: Mike Jakob of Chicago-Based Sportvision on What’s Coming Next (6/27/2006)
Q&A: Mike Jakob of Sportvision in Chicago on Enhancement Technologies (6/20/2006)
Q&A: Christos Fotiadis of ProtoGroup in Chicago on Japanese Culture (6/6/2006)
Q&A: Christos Fotiadis of ProtoGroup in Chicago on Japanese Expansion (5/30/2006)
Q&A: Christos Fotiadis of ProtoGroup in Chicago on Compliance, Partners (5/16/2006)
Q&A: Lakeview Technology Founder Bill Merchantz on Trade Shows (4/4/2006)
Q&A: Lakeview Technology Founder Bill Merchantz on International Partners (3/28/2006)
Q&A: Lakeview Technology Founder Bill Merchantz on Overseas Expansion (3/7/2006)
Q&A: Steven Ganster of Technomic Asia on Chinese Readiness (2/7/2006)
Q&A: Steven Ganster of Technomic Asia on Chinese, U.S. Differences (1/24/2006)
Q&A: Steven Ganster of Technomic Asia on Approaching Chinese Expansion (1/17/2006)
Click for 2005 column archive.
Click for 2004 column archive.

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