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August 9, 2006 

 Q&A: Robert Noe, CEO of Chicago-Based 1SYNC, on Data Standards 8/8/2006
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 Ė Robert Noe is responsible for the strategy and operations of Chicago-based 1SYNC and for ensuring its customer community receives value from data synchronization.

In part two of a three-part Q&A, 1SYNC CEO Robert Noe sat down with international expert Michael Muth to discuss data standards for data synchronization.

Michael Muth: Is it cost effective for small customers to utilize data synchronization?
Bob Noe: Small companies can subscribe to our services for as little as $100 a month. The benefits realized by them are significant as it enables smaller companies and large organizations to engage in commerce. Accurate data synchronization can help customers reduce their supply chain costs dramatically.

MM commentary: Depending on turnover and revenues, it doesnít sound all that expensive to me.

MM: How does supply chain data synchronization differ across borders?
BN: Not as much as you might think. The 80/20 rule applies here in that 80 percent of what we do is the same across borders and only 20 percent changes. There are some country-specific issues that we have to address.

In Germany, we have to track hazardous materials labeling for retailers, which we donít have to do in other countries. Similarly, another country may have other important attributes that need to be recorded. We work together with member organizations in 104 different countries to serve global manufacturers and retailers.

Weíre more of an international federation like the United Nations. All the information synchronized is then synchronized between two country pools to ensure all required and relevant information is exchanged between trading partners across borders. We recently had our general assembly in Malta where 85 of our member organizations met.

MM commentary: Though only 20 percent may change from country to country, when thatís an important 20 percent Ė such as with hazardous materials labeling Ė then itís very important to pay close attention to those differences. Accounting for those differences across 104 countries may not be a small task.

MM: Given your international customer base, why no localized Web sites?
BN: There is no need. Our solutions are implemented by our local partners and we donít need to localize our Web site. Also, ours is a global solution that is the same across borders.

MM commentary: OK, so maybe 1SYNC doesnít have to localize its Web site, but all of its local partners must. Even though itís a global solution, 20 percent does change from country to country.

MM: What are the standards for data synchronization?
BN: We store data in whatever way the customer wishes (metric, imperial or both).

MM commentary: So long as someone is tracking this, everything is fine. This just seems to be one of those details that can easily be confused with big consequences.

MM: How do you account for different address formats internationally?
BN: Itís addressed in the standards. We have the various fields to accommodate addresses such as province, state, country, etc.

MM commentary: Just in case you havenít traveled much or corresponded internationally, international address formats are very inconsistent. Street numbers are inverted compared to where we place them in the U.S. and Germany has added more specific city codes to its postal codes.

Though there are now somewhat standardized country codes in the United Kingdom and Canada, postal codes contain letters in addition to numbers and there are different numbers of digits.

Friends of mine in Spain and Thailand have additional lines in their addresses so mail can find their way to their towers and islands. Needless to say, keeping track of all of these differences manually must have been difficult. Now theyíre all just fields in a database.

MM: How do you handle currency fluctuations in managing pricing and promotions?
BN: All we do is store and provide the data. How the data is used depends on the trading partners using the information. When intercepting the data, the concerned trading partner can apply the conversion rate of that date to get the exact prices.

MM commentary: The service provider transfers this responsibility back onto the client, which is fine as long as the client is able to synthesize it.

MM: How many languages does 1SYNC support?
BN: We provide user interfaces in Dutch, Portuguese, French, Spanish, German and English.

MM commentary: Itís interesting that 1SYNCís Web site is not localized but its user interfaces are localized into six languages.

MM: Which languages will you add in the future? When?
BN: We add them on an as-needed basis. There seems to be particular interest from Asia these days. The Asian market is typically deliberate and takes a considerable amount of time to reach a decision. They spend time understanding the requirements, infrastructure and requirements before making any kind of commitment.

When theyíre ready to implement, they do so at a fast pace. When that happens, we will be ready to roll out our operations there.

MM commentary: Adding Asian-language capabilities might be a little trickier because many are double-byte character sets.

MM: What problems have you encountered trying to develop international standards? How have you solved these problems?
BN: The electronic data interchange (EDI) has been around for probably 20 years. Before that, there were no standards. There are still six or seven different flavors of EDI in Europe. We now provide a standard.

MM commentary: For those who havenít given up proprietary EDI formats, integrating with those who have adopted standard formats can still be a problem.

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 Muthís full biography.

Previous Columns in 2006:
Q&A: Robert Noe, CEO of Chicago-Based 1SYNC, on Data Synchronization (8/1/2006)
Q&A: Mike Jakob of Sportvision in Chicago on Creating Sports Innovation (7/11/2006)
Q&A: Mike Jakob of Chicago-Based Sportvision on Whatís 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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