I don’t really know what happened this week. We are between the holidays and people left and right of me have their challenges of being GS1 compliant. It must be that time of the year, where people get around to think about issues and opportunities they did not have time for over the course of the year, but it seems that now is the time. The range of people that I met just over the past couple of days fall into different categories as far as GS1 is concerned.
I don’t know how many companies I met over the course of the year, that tried to explain to me that GS1 is too expensive, that there should be other ways for doing this. Guys, there is no alternative! If you are in the food business today, you need to be for a range of reasons part of the GS1 system. You need GTINS, UPC’s and GLN’s and other data. If you don’t license your own company prefix, license the use as part of a larger marketing organization. Just find a way to get yourself GS1 compliant. Information systems demand by retailers, food service companies, regulators and consumers will only increase. The solutions will be all based on GS1. If you still ignore these facts, try looking at GS1 as a business tax. It is just what you need to pay and to conduct business.
One level up from the Ignorant, you find the Minimalist. The Minimalist is the organization that is just doing on a technological level the bare minimum that their customers and regulators require. They get the requirement from their customer base, that they ‘must have’ a GTIN or must print a GS1-128 compliant label. They may go and install the proper font in MS-Excel and setup label printing there. Once they silence their customer base, they are happy to have succeeded. I cannot tell you how often I have seen that these companies implement the standard just superficially right, but not 100% GS1 compliant. I saw companies that create labels with duplicate serial numbers every day, I saw companies that don’t read the data structure of the GS1-128 bar-code and interpret it dynamically, but with static offsets. About 2 years ago, I had to deal with such a Minimalist as a business partner (it was a Cold Storage facility, which are trouble already) and wrote my opinion on not adhering to standards on my blog. The Minimalist is the leading culprit on why we cannot rely on standards. I actually think that the Minimalist is even worse than the Ignorant.
The Pragmatist combines the organizations desire to optimize business processes and business communication and leverages established business standards wherever they can. When they encounter the need to create a pallet-ID in their organization, they actually implement the SSCC concept of GS1, even though the number is 18-digits long, way longer than proprietary systems may need. The pragmatist is just using standards where they need a solution, hoping that others will do the same thing. The pragmatist is not really going above and beyond his own four walls and just optimizes the business for himself. There is no larger motivation. He enables future growth by putting the right fundamental building blocks for the future in place.
The Progressive is the type of person or company that you find on social networks. They work on fringe requirements and solutions within the GS1 solution stack, of which the majority of people in their organization has never heard of. They switch fluently between EPCIS, GDSN, EPC and other enhanced solution services, know how these solutions work and share their knowledge in plenty of industry discussion groups that is full of geeks and nerds like themselves. They see all the possibilities and try to use them in the most progressive fashion, but they are rarely heard within their own organization. The solutions are just way too progressive and perhaps create additional costs without hard savings and hard ROI attached to them yet. Some of these efforts are backfiring. Progressive people tend to implement new technologies before they are well established. New standards change a lot of times for early adapters and some may be replaced with even newer technologies, making implementation efforts of ‘older stuff’ sometimes obsolete.
Some people, especially those from GS1 like to think of another type of individual, “The un(der) Educated”. While I think that there are a lot of people that implement GS1 standards without knowing them well enough, I must say that I have not even seen a GS1 certified consultant or employee that know exactly how these standards all work. In a certain sense, we all are under educated.
I think the solution to this puzzle lies in intelligent and integrated software solutions, which companies like CSB-System, Harvestmark among others provide to the industry, systems that incorporate the GS1 standards knowledge of multiple people in standard software solutions that will adhere to these standards and combine them with best business practice know-how for cost efficient and great solutions. If you don’t understand GS1 standards, partner with a solution provider that does. And especially, don’t waste your time between the holidays on trying to understand GS1. There are much better things to do! Happy Holidays!