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Welcome to iSurf Project Web Site
Contract Number   : 213031
Project Acronym   : iSurf
Project Name   : An Interoperability Service Utility for Collaborative Supply Chain Planning across Multiple Domains Supported by RFID Devices
Priority   : Objective ICT-2007-1.3: ICT in support of the networked enterprise
Total Cost (€)   : 3.129.337 €
Commission Funding (€)   : 1.997.340 €

Partners:

Participant no.

Participant organization name

Part. short name

Country

1

(coordinator)

Middle East Technical University

METU

Turkey
Turkey

2

Software Research, Development, Consultation Company

SRDC

Turkey
Turkey

3

INTEL Performance Learning Solutions Limited, Ireland

INTEL

Ireland
Ireland

4

TXT e-solutions S.P.A

TXT

Italy
Italy

5

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Institute Manufacturing Engineering and Automation

FhG-IPA

Germany
Germany

6

Uninova – Instituto de Desenvolvimento de Novas Tecnologias

UNINOVA

Portugal
Portugal

7

Fratelli Piacenza S.p.A.

Piacenza

Italy
Italy

 

iSURF Pilot Application: Deployment, Evaluation and Lessons Learnt

1. Introduction

To be able to cope with the requirements of today’s competitive and demanding digital world of business, companies, especially SMEs, need to be more agile, and be ready to react to the changing requirements of the sector. This requires a better view and a more comprehensive analysis of the whole marketplace. Trading partners within a supply chain usually have different competencies based on their business strategies and varying sources of information. When this information is not shared, the decision making capability of companies is reduced since the impact of a decision on the supply chain as a whole cannot be assessed correctly. An environment needs to be created to facilitate the collaborative exploitation of this distributed intelligence of multiple trading partners in order to better plan and fulfil the customer demand in the supply chain.

As a response to this need, the iSURF project (“An Interoperability Service Utility for Collaborative Supply Chain Planning across Multiple Domains Supported by RFID Devices” - http://www.isurfproject.eu)[1] provides a knowledge-oriented inter-enterprise collaboration environment to SMEs to share information on the supply chain visibility, individual sales and order forecast of companies, current status of the products in the manufacturing and distribution process, and the exceptional events that may affect the forecasts in a secure and controlled way.

The aim of this article is to focus on the achievements of the iSURF Pilot Application, which has been successfully deployed and evaluated. First, brief information about the objectives and components of iSURF is presented. Then, the iSURF Pilot Application is explained by going over the pilot application scenario steps one by one. Finally, evaluation results and the lessons learnt are summarized.

2. Challenges and Main Components

In order to achieve a knowledge-oriented inter-enterprise collaboration environment for European SMEs, there are a number of challenges to be addressed. These challenges and how the iSURF Project addresses them can be summarized as follows:

  • The first prerequisite of such a knowledge sharing environment is having an appropriate infrastructure established to enable information exchange between partners, and a business process definition that orchestrates this knowledge sharing according to well defined practices. Such an environment should be easy to use, the SMEs should be capable of easily creating a new collaborative planning process definition, and the tool should not be costly. Collaborative Planning, Forecasting, and Replenishment (CPFR®) guidelines[2] present collaborative business practices enabling the trading partners to have visibility into one another’s critical demand, order forecasts and the promotional forecasts through a systematic process of sharing planning information, exception identification and resolution. The main objective of CPFR® is to increase the accuracy of demand forecasts and replenishment plans, necessary to lower inventories across the supply chain and attain high service levels by making right products available at right locations. CPFR® proposes a nine step planning process which involves a number of transactions between partners exchanging planning documents with each other. However, in successful CPFR® pilot applications, it has been reported that the definition and deployment of CPFR® processes within a supply chain consortium is too costly and labour intensive[3]. Although CPFR® provides guidelines, there is no machine processable process template defined. Also, CPFR® does not mandate any technology to implement the CPFR® approach. As a result, the consortiums agreed to collaborate based on CPFR® guidelines need to implement their own strategy. As a response to these needs, iSURF project provides a Service Oriented Collaborative Supply Chain Planning Process Definition and Execution Platform based on “CPFR®” guidelines. This platform presents “template” collaborative planning process definitions, enables customization of these templates graphically and provides wizards to create executable planning process definitions as an OASIS WS-BPEL[4] package that can be easily deployed in integration with the underlying enterprise planning applications.
  • Within the scope of a collaborative planning process, partners are enabled to exchange supply chain planning documents such as “Sales Forecast”, “Retail Event” and “Inventory Status”. There are various standard initiatives addressing the standardization of communication in exchanging the supply chain planning information in different domains, such as OAGIS, CIDX, GS1 eCOM. Hence when companies involved in more than one supply chain need to exchange this planning information across multiple domains, they face an interoperability problem. iSURF project provides a Semantic Interoperability Service Utility (ISU) for achieving the semantic reconciliation of the planning and forecasting business documents exchanged between the companies according to different standards. In order to standardize the semantic specifications developed for the iSURF Interoperability Service Utility, a technical committee namely “OASIS Semantic Support for Electronic Business Document Interoperability (SET)”[5] is initiated by the iSURF Project under OASIS umbrella.
  • In order to be used effectively, inter-enterprise collaboration processes should be integrated with the underlying legacy applications handling the internal planning activities such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications. Rather than all-in-one integration, interoperability solutions should be accessible to SMEs: with their limited resources, they cannot afford integration costs with all of their partners. iSURF project proposes a Service Oriented Architecture: Legacy Wrappers are implemented as Web services to interact with the underlying business processes and to expose the existing legacy application functionalities in order to solve the technical interoperability problem.
  • One of the fundamental requirements for optimizing supply chain performance is availability of the right data at the right place and at the right time in the right format, i.e., visibility of appropriate information in the supply chain. Visibility of appropriate information in the product distribution network and real time information updates enable the companies to optimize their internal schedules and forecasts in a timely manner. However, most of the traditional data gathering processes are far from real-time. Data is gathered from various sources through different techniques which may vary from manual methods to automated ones like barcodes or tags. The data then is computerized at regular intervals. This yields to only pseudo real-time processing and introduces visibility gaps in the system. Because of the visibility gaps in the supply chain, the internal planning and scheduling systems base their decisions on inaccurate and out-to-date data which results in sub-optimal decision-making in the whole supply chain. To address this problem, iSURF project provides an open source Smart Product Infrastructure (SPI) based on RFID technology using EPCGlobal standards[6]. Through this infrastructure, necessary tools and processes are provided to SMEs to collect real-time product visibility events from massively distributed RFID devices; filter, correlate and aggregate them in order to put them into business context, and trigger any relevant arbitrarily-complex business workflows that have been predefined. The iSURF Smart Product Infrastructure composed of the Smart Product Middleware (SPM) and the Data Integrator Module (DIM) implements the EPCGlobal architecture by building on (and contributing to) the open source Fosstrak platform[7], and further extends the architecture via the introduction of configurable business processes and event driven workflow, transformation, and reporting engines.
  • RFID based systems provide real time supply chain visibility data. However to achieve maximum benefit from RFID technologies, the supply chain must be supported with Global Data Synchronization mechanisms to allow partners to share accurate master data reliably and efficiently. To facilitate this, iSURF provides Global Data Synchronization Service Utility (GDSSU). GS1 provides guidelines and standards for Global Data Synchronization Networks[8]. GDSN enables partners to publish/subscribe/query master data about their companies and product catalogues through a Global Registry and several Data Pools through standard GS1 messages. iSURF GDSSU provides easy to use open source client interfaces for SMEs as graphical interfaces and also as Web Services so that they can be easily integrated to a GDSN Network.
  • During the collaborative supply chain planning process, exceptional events may occur; e.g. the retailer may inform that the forecasted sales quota may not be met, or the manufacturer can inform that the forecasted order may not be supplied due to logistics problems. Previously, in such cases the supply chain partners needed to update their plans, so that the overall supply chain plan should be updated accordingly, which usually results in profitability decrease. This was the only viable solution, since enabling technologies for on-demand partner search and collaboration agreement were not available. As an alternative to this approach, iSURF project provides an infrastructure, namely Transitory Collaboration Service Utility (TCSU), for establishing transitory and dynamic collaboration agreements between trading partners.

The overall iSURF architecture is presented in Figure 1.

generalarch

Figure 1 Overall iSURF Architecture

3. iSURF Pilot Application

Although iSURF enables a generic collaborative environment, the outcomes are demonstrated in the textile domain through the iSURF Pilot Application. Our end user, namely Fratelli Piacenza S.p.A., is a manufacturer of fine cashmere fabrics and supplier to many world-leading apparel brand manufacturers, including Boss and INCO/Zegna.

There are several challenges within the textile domain. Textile/Clothing is a highly diverse, heterogeneous and fragmented sector. It is an important part of the European manufacturing industry, representing about 5% of the manufacturing value added and more than 7% of the total manufacturing of EU 27. It plays a critical role in the economics and social well-being in numerous regions across Europe, in which economy is far above average, reaching 25% of the total industrial employment. According to the figures of 2008, there are around 160.000 textile companies in the EU employing more than 2.3 million people and generating a turnover of about 200 billion Euros. Textile/Clothing is a very challenging sector because of its peculiar structure: small average company dimension and flexible and quick sub-supplying model generates a critical necessity of quick and precise information transfer. An improvement in this field as well as interoperability between such a vast number of suppliers can have a strong and powerful positive impact. Manufacturers are usually not aware of sell-out numbers of their products, especially in the case of retailers with 2-3 employees. Consequently, they are not able to make consistent and precise estimations of their productions for the ongoing or upcoming seasons. In addition, a manufacturer usually works with several production partners, or sub-suppliers. The challenge here is the exchange of production plans and synchronization of product catalogues in a timely manner. Inability to make accurate estimations of production forecasts and plans affects the raw material acquisition phase, in which unguided decisions can very easily lead to losses of millions of Euros.

For example, cashmere is mainly supplied from China and Mongolia. In the winter of 2009, more than 30% of Mongolian goats died due to harsh weather conditions and overall there was a 20-25% increase in the price of cashmere. Today, 1 kg of cashmere can reach 100 dollars. Another problem is the euro-dollar exchange rate, which is quite unstable, especially in the current economic climate. As a result, due to their experience, Piacenza have already bought an important percentage of raw material for 2011, but it is not yet clear if this decision will prove profitable or not, and eventually with which consequences.

From here on, we will go over the major pilot application scenario steps to demonstrate our achievements (see Figure 2).

pilotsteps

Figure 2 Major Pilot Application Scenario Steps

In our pilot application, there is one manufacturer, one retailer and two production partners:

· Piacenza Knitwear Division (PKD): Manufacturer

· Piacenza Biella Retailer (PBR): A multi-brand retailer

· Production Partners A and B (PPA and PPB): For pilot purposes, two productions partners are virtualized by open source ERP systems simulating their legacy system

Below, each pilot application scenario step is presented briefly by following the ordering of steps in Figure 2.

Phase 1 - Create Item Description and Component List

After the manufacturer creates the product descriptions for the new season, there is a need to share them with the involved parties, i.e. the retailers and production partners. Prior to iSURF, different IDs were stored on supply chain partners’ legacy systems containing different structures of IDs. Codes were exchanged by emails or similar methods and manually inserted in legacy systems using transcoding tables mapping private and Piacenza codes. This procedure is both time consuming and expensive.

The iSURF framework allows PKD to synchronize its product catalogue with its retailers and production partners automatically through the Global Data Synchronization Service Utility (GDSSU), a system based on GS1 standards. Through the publish/subscribe mechanism, the interested parties are able to see synchronized product information in their legacy systems in real time.

cataloguemanager

Figure 3 PKD Catalogue Manager Integrated with GDSSU

Another benefit that iSURF brought to Piacenza business is the adoption of Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) in parallel with the legacy coding system they are using.

Phase 2 - CPFR® Message Exchange for Replenishment Planning

Before beginning production of new items for the new season, PKD has to forecast the types and number of items to be sold. To do this they need to collect sell-out data and other valuable information such as popular colours of the year from the retailers. However, prior to iSURF such a collaboration environment did not exist in a structured way.

iSURF adopts the Collaborative Planning, Forecast and Replenishment (CPFR®) Guidelines, the advantages of which are reduced forecast errors, increased sales, shorter replenishment lead times, and visibility into consumer buying trends. On the other hand, there are several challenges. Deployment of CPFR® processes is too costly and labour intensive, it is technology independent and even when SMEs are provided with the necessary technical infrastructure, managing long CPFR® processes is impossible for very small enterprises.

In order to overcome these challenges, iSURF provided a CPFR® based collaboration environment in which SMEs are supported with user-friendly CPFR® add-ons on top of their legacy systems and very simple subsets of the default CPFR® processes are created, especially for retailers with just 2-3 employees. In order to support SMEs lacking IT resources, we have developed a CPFR® plug-in for the World’s most popular open source ERP system, Openbravo[9]. In the background, there is also support for interoperability among different message formats via the Interoperability Service Utility (ISU).

openbravo

Figure 4 Openbravo CPFR® Module Interface (Italian version)

At the end of this phase, PKD has order forecasts with its retailers for the upcoming season. In addition to individual forecasts, it is also possible to see aggregation of forecasts for different partners.

Phase 3 - CPFR® Message Exchange for Production Planning

Having forecasts for the upcoming season, PKD has to plan production with its sub-suppliers. Prior to iSURF, this was done manually by telephone or physical conversations.

The original CPFR® guidelines do not support collaboration for production planning but in iSURF we have developed a custom business process for this purpose according to the requirements of our end user. The end-result is the agreement of a concrete production plan with concrete time plans and exception resolution mechanisms.

If an exception occurs with one of the production partners such as an unpredicted delay in delivery, it is possible to look for new partners according to their reputation in the supply chain and make electronic capacity checking calls. This is enabled through the Transitory Collaboration Service Utility (TCSU) component of iSURF.

Phase 4 - Serial Numbers Generation

After completing production planning, PKD can start the production process together with its production partners. Prior to iSURF, PKD used to print barcodes and send them to production partners together with the materials, components or semi-finished products.

iSURF now supports this operation by the usage of RFID and GS1 Electronic Product Codes (EPC) to identify unequivocally an item along the whole supply chain, via the Smart Product Infrastructure (SPI). Now, with the production partners who have RFID tag printers, PKD can just generate and share EPCs electronically to be written by the partners after production. PKD is still able to print and provide the RFID tags for the others.

Since some retailers may not have RFID readers at the check-out desk, RFID and traditional barcodes are used together in the product label of Fratelli Piacenza.

rfid

 

Figure 5 RFID Tag Printer and a Sample Piacenza Product Label with RFID Tag

Phase 5-6-7 - Assign Serial to Garment, Assign Tags, Check-out

In these phases the production partners manufacture the products, attach the RFID tags and ship the finished pullovers within boxes to PKD.

Phase 8 - Check-in at the PKD Warehouse

When the finished products are received from the production partners, the first essential step is their check-in to the ERP system of PKD. Prior to iSURF, the Warehouse Manager and his assistants used to spend several hours to open each box, get garments one by one, read their barcodes with a barcode reader which requires line-of-sight, update the legacy system and finally put the items back in the box.

rfid

 

Figure 6 Barcode Reader vs. Fixed RFID Reader Gateway at the PKD Warehouse

With iSURF, PKD is now able to complete check-in of a box in a few seconds through the fixed RFID reader and Smart Product Infrastructure of iSURF. The warehouse operator feeds in the RFID reader one box at a time and initiates reading activity. She can see the list of read items in her Graphical User Interface, and automatically compare with the expected content of the box. Then she can trigger reconciliation of the read products with the PKD legacy system. The reading events from the check-in phase are then stored into the iSURF Data Integrator Module (DIM) and the PKD ERP system.

checkin

Figure 7 PKD Check-in/Check-out/Inventory GUI

The Data Integrator Module is an implementation of the EPCGlobal EPCIS repository, customized according to requirements of the textile domain. It collects and aggregates product visibility information; in our case such information is provided through the Smart Product Middleware (SPM) that communicates with the reader. The authorized parties can both query and subscribe to events from a Data Integrator Module. The DIM is the main interface of iSURF for global product visibility and traceability information; it will be presented in more detail soon.

Overall, iSURF enhanced check-in saves time and money by automating existing manual operations such as manual count of goods, manual reading of barcodes and manual check against the formal transport document.

Phase 9-10-11 - Quality Control and Sort, Compose Box, Check-out at the PKD Warehouse

Following check-in, the traditional PKD business proceeds as follows. Products are checked for quality control and the boxes to be delivered to the retailers are composed by sorting the products appropriately.

When a box for a retailer is full, it is usually time for check-out. Again, with the help of RFID readers and the iSURF software, this step is completed in just a few seconds. The only difference with the check-in is that, this time the business context is set as “check-out” by the Warehouse Operator. A third alternative for business context is “inventory”, which is normally done twice a year by Piacenza manually.

The Return of Investment for the automation of check-in, check-out and inventory processes is foreseen as less than two years, considering the benefits in the warehouse alone.

Phase 12 - Check-in at Piacenza Biella Retailer (PBR)

As in the case of PKD, the first step after receiving the goods at the retailer side is to perform their check-in. This procedure is very similar to the check-in at the PKD warehouse, the only difference is, in our pilot application we are using a mobile RFID reader at the retailer side. The iSURF middleware communicating with the reader and sending events to the Data Integrator Module is still the same. It is also possible to use any other kind of RFID reader.

mobilerfid

Figure 8 iSURF Mobile RFID Reader Application and Check-in at the PBR

During check-in, the Shop Manager first sets the business context as “check-in” and then circulates the reader around the product box. Business context alternatives at the shop are “check-in”, “check-out”, “sell-out” and “inventory”. The Shop Manager can see the list of items read in the mobile reader interface. Again, these events are sent to the Data Integrator Module for further usage. A great advantage is the automatic availability of all information regarding the checked in goods, which are directly downloaded into the shop system by iSURF components. This process improves the accuracy and rapidity of information exchange as well as efficiency of the process, eliminating data entry processes.

Phase 13 - Sell-out at Piacenza Biella Retailer (PBR)

From the Shop Manager’s perspective, the sell-out procedure prior to iSURF is almost identical to the new one. This time she uses a mobile RFID reader instead of a barcode reader at the check-out desk.

During sell-out, the RFID tags are de-activated because in Italy, selling the customer a product with an active RFID tag is forbidden by law.

Phase 13.1 - Meaningful Use of Product Visibility Information

The sell-out of a product ends its normal lifecycle. So far, we have collected and filtered very valuable visibility information about every single product that has an attached RFID tag. Now, it is time to observe this information.

As mentioned previously, the Data Integrator Module (DIM) is the main iSURF component that collects, filters and provides access to product visibility information all over the supply chain.

For example, the retailers are more interested in their summaries of sell-out data, rather than check-in or check-out. In addition to displaying a lifecycle of a single item, the DIM is also able to present aggregated information, which has statistical consistency for PKD. DIM is an implementation of EPCGlobal EPCIS Repository but its query and subscribe interfaces are customized according to requirements of the textile domain. Normally, EPCIS supports query by GS1 codes such as GTIN or EPC; however such codes do not make much sense to actual users in the domain, i.e. the Shop Manager or Production Manager.

report

Figure 9 Sample Piacenza Sell-out Report generated by the Smart Product Infrastructure

Therefore, DIM supports queries by common attributes of a knitwear product such as season, specification, colour, material, size. In order to realize this, DIM has been integrated with the public catalogue of Piacenza Knitwear Division through the GDSSU component of iSURF. iSURF functionalities have been decided and tested with end user employees, to develop a system asccording to their business reality.

While the Shop Manager can only view information about the products sold in her shop, the PKD Production Manager can retrieve summaries of sell-out data from all their retailers; the aggregation of results from different retailers is handled by the DIM. Prior to iSURF, there was no way to access this information. Now, the PKD Production Manager can make better estimates on the forecasts and production plans of the upcoming season.

Another advantage of accessing real-time and historical visibility data from the field is making a better assessment for the raw material acquisition phase in which wrong decisions can lead to loss of millions of Euros at once.

While being informed of the sell-out summaries is of interest to Production and Shop Managers, the Logistics and Warehouse Managers would like to trace the position and context of individual products through the supply chain. The DIM also provides query and publish/subscribe interfaces for product traceability.

Phase 14 - CPFR® Message Exchange for Replenishment Planning (For Winter Re-order Season)

There are some extraordinary cases in the textile domain such as the winter re-order season, also known as discount time, which takes place between September and December. In regular winter or summer seasons, orders are usually collected before the production. However, in winter re-order season, the retailers make the orders for immediate delivery, to satisfy unpredicted demand of the market and of individual customers. Considering that the regular production cycle of knitwear is 2-3 months (when the necessary yarn is already available), this is not achievable without the Make-to-Stock strategy of manufacturers,

Prior to iSURF, Piacenza was not supported by structured and statistically valuable information. Now, in order to drive the Make-to-Stock strategy of Piacenza in the correct way, to avoid the manufacturing of goods that are not needed, to better tune forecast to the needs of the markets and to reduce out-of-season clearances sales, the CPFR® messaging with retailers is re-iterated weekly starting with the winter season from July/August, depending on delivery and market. The forecasts and production plans of PKD are updated with real time information from the field belonging to products of that year. PKD will know the trends of the year and plan Make-to-Stock more efficiently.

4. Pilot Application Evaluation

In order to validate the usability and effectiveness of the iSURF Pilot Application, a multi-level evaluation strategy has been followed by the iSURF Consortium. The iSURF pilot was evaluated compliant with the DECIDE framework[10], whose objective is to formalize the complete evaluation process from the beginning (i.e. determining the goals of the evaluation) to the end (i.e. analysing evaluation results providing feedback to interested parties). The iSURF Pilot Application evaluation strategy is composed of two methodologies: the Software Quality Evaluation Methodology and the Qualitative Evaluation Methodology, which are additionally supported by the Performance Indicators (PIs) Mechanism.

The Software Quality Evaluation Methodology’s main goal is to evaluate the functional and non-functional characteristics of the software used in the iSURF pilot application. For each pilot application scenario step, an evaluation form was developed. These forms are composed of questions specifically related to functionality, reliability, usability, efficiency, maintainability, portability and pilot scenario requirements checking. These questions were defined taking in consideration the quality requirements defined by ISO/IEC 25010. The forms have been applied to real end-users working in Piacenza premises (the user roles are available for each scenario step in Figure 2), and to developers and evaluators of the corresponding iSURF components. This was performed during the final pilot deployment and evaluation meeting; almost all the actors were together, facilitating discussions about what was appropriate, functional, etc. at that time on the systems. This resulted in an efficient way of improving the systems. The results to the evaluation forms revealed 89% success of the iSURF Pilot Application.

After finalizing the evaluation steps, the Performance Indicators (PIs) mechanism was used to define success factors and measure progress towards the achievement of determined goals of the iSURF Pilot Application. An example PI is for measuring the amount of time and cost reductions the iSURF catalogue synchronization facility will make relative to old systems. All the PI results were verified by making comparative analysis of the iSURF Pilot Application with the old way of doing business in Piacenza. The success rate of the PI mechanism is 93%.

Finally, as the third evaluation mechanism, Qualitative Evaluation Methodology has been applied to evaluate the applicability of the iSURF platform in external SMEs/domains, essentially in their supply chains, from a business point of view. For this methodology, a video was defined based on the iSURF Pilot deployment scheme. The shooting occurred during the pilot deployment/evaluation event. The storyboard of the video intended to be complete enough to be able to explain the results of the iSURF project. In parallel, key experts to be involved in this evaluation study are determined. In the end, the questionnaire was applied to 3rd party experts from various sectors including textile/clothing, data management, defence, aeronautics, oil & gas, aerospace, furniture, automotive, etc. The answers to the questionnaire represent 77% acceptance of the iSURF results, which is quite motivating for the iSURF consortium.

5. Conclusions

The iSURF Project began in February 2008 and successfully completed in July 2010. In this article, we have presented the major challenges, objectives and the results from the pilot application which is deployed to premises of Fratelli Piacenza S.p.A. The evaluation of the pilot application by end-users of the system proved the applicability and user-acceptance of iSURF results.

During design, implementation and evaluation phases, we have faced many challenges as well, and while trying to overcome these challenges, we have learnt some lessons. Below, a summary of the lessons learnt is provided:

· Lessons learnt from application of Collaborative Planning, Forecasting, and Replenishment (CPFR®) guidelines: Before starting the project, iSURF Consortium already knew that deployment of CPFR® processes is too costly and labour intensive, and mostly adopted by very big enterprises such as Kraft, Marks & Spencer, Masterfoods, Nestlé, ONIA-NET, Procter & Gamble, STMicroElectronics. In order to overcome CPFR® challenges, iSURF provided a Collaborative Planning Process (CPP) Design and Execution Environment. However, even when the SMEs are provided with the necessary technical infrastructure and user-friendly interfaces for CPFR® message exchange, we have seen in the iSURF Project that managing the default CPFR® processes is not possible for small enterprises.

 

The reality is that, most retailers are composed of just 2-3 people that are hardly able to manage their daily business. It is almost impossible for them to dedicate resources for long CPFR® message exchanging with tens of manufacturers they work with. The manufacturer, PKD in our case, should be the one who accesses information about its products from the retailers (e.g. through DIM), otherwise the staff of retailers cannot spend time for aggregating and sending such information to PKD. In the end, we agreed to maintain two simplified versions of template CPFR® processes: the first one with some messages removed to be used by medium sized companies and the second one for very small SMEs which leads to the creation of an order forecast with just a few message exchanges. It should be noted that still it is possible to graphically modify any CPFR® process according to the requirements through CPP Designer.

 

· Lessons learnt from studies in semantic mediation among different business document standards (ISU): iSURF Project developed an Interoperability Service Utility (ISU) that facilitates the semantic mediation between different business document standards that are based on UN/CEFACT CCTS methodology. The current approaches used for interoperability of different standards are based on manual techniques, where the relations among the concepts of the standards are identified by a human domain expert. This is a very costly process. In iSURF ISU, on the other hand, the relations among the concepts are discovered semi-automatically by using ontology and description logic reasoning.

 

What we have observed in the iSURF Project is that, even when different electronic business document standards are based on a single methodology, the resulting schemas may differ too much which complicates the mapping of these schemas to each other. With the use of ontologies and additional heuristic rules, iSURF ISU does its best to map different electronic business document standard schemas, and the results are quite successful. For example, the success rate in mapping of GS1 XML schemas for CPFR® to UBL counterparts is %88.7, and the false-positive ratio is around 10%. However, still it is not possible to totally automate the mapping process. iSURF ISU is a load-reducing assistant to the domain experts in mediation of different electronic business document standards; hence the domain experts are nevertheless needed. iSURF ISU has been improved to learn from the manual corrections of the domain experts as well.

 

· Lessons learnt from development of a standards-based Smart Product Middleware (SPM): The strategy of using an event based architecture and configurable rules and processes in the Smart Product Middleware (SPM) proved a powerful and flexible mechanism for integrating RFID data into legacy systems as presented by the iSURF pilot application in Piacenza. The ability to create complex custom workflows using the generic reusable work items of the SPM meant that integration was both flexible and rapid. In particular the use of visual workflows helped bridge the gap between technical and business users which facilitated a rapid prototyping approach in which multiple solutions could be quickly developed, integrated and tested. A library of these open source work-items and workflows is available as part of the SPM. This library could be expanded to support integration with standard and legacy components such as ERPs or to integrate future elements of the expanding EPCglobal architecture.

 

The use of complex event processing technology provided a potent way to reason over and react to event streams using user defined rules and processes. This was especially useful in relation to the events of the EPCglobal Low Level Reader Protocol where it was possible to react to hardware failures such as loss of connections and to prevent spurious information being dispatched from the middleware layer. This work could be expanded to encompass other areas of fault tolerance such as dynamic failover and reconnection strategies. The use of complex event processing and business rules could also be used to enforce low level security policies. A logical extension of the SPM would be the development of an RFID and sensor middleware built around core complex event processing engines where business rules could be applied directly at the sensor adaptor layer. This could afford advantages in terms of the application of business rules at the sensor level and also in terms of sensor failover.

 

· Lessons learnt from establishing a global master data synchronization environment (GDSSU): The pilot application has been a very useful test-bed for the synchronisation of the products catalogues for two main reasons: 1) In Piacenza environment, Piacenza Knitwear Division (PKD - the manufacturer) and Piacenza Biella Retailer (PBR - the retailer) belong to the same organisation but they were using different coding format that was causing a lot of inefficiency in the daily work; 2) Textile sector is a good target market for the solution because almost the entire catalogue changes seasonally, at least two time per year. By the adoption of Global Data Synchronization Service Utility (GDSSU) module the system has become efficient by the elimination of manual errors, and fast and secure electronic exchange of information. However, the major intangible benefit is the satisfaction of PBR employees.

 

Another lesson learned by the deployment and usage of GDSSU in the pilot application is that the coexistence of the old and the new codification system is critical, should be addressed as soon as possible and should not be underestimated in the budget of the project. Without the management of this phase, adoption by the majority of the actors of the supply-chain is not achievable, which is definitely a critical step.

An important thing that should be put in evidence is that the resistance in changing the codification system is very high due to “speaking codes” commonly used in companies. Personnel usually use the code to derive the characteristics of the product instead of using an IT system. This can be overcome by a careful and anticipated ad-hoc design of the coexistence of the new and the old system and a strong dissemination of the advantages provided by the synchronization system in the preliminary contacts with organisations. Another best practice to overcome this problem is to address firstly the leader of the supply chain and make pressure through it to depending SMEs for the adoption of the system. This last action should be done in cooperation with the previous point to be very effective.

iSURF results will continue to be exploited by Piacenza after the completion of the project, we foresee that Piacenza will experience concrete return of investments in a few years as identified in our business plan, for example for the next four years (2011-2014), a turnover increase of 560 K Euros is foreseen only due to informed management of the re-order season.

Contact Point:

Prof. Dr. Asuman Dogac

Software R&D Center
Department of Computer Eng.
Middle East Technical University
06531 Ankara Turkey

Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Phone: +90 (312) 210 1393
Fax: +90 (312) 210 1837



[1] The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement no 213031

[2] Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Standards (VICS), CPFR - An overview (2004), http://committees.vics.org/committees/cpfr/CPFR_Overview_US-A4.pdf

[3] European CPFR Insights (2002), http://www.ecr-institute.org/publications/best-practices/european-cpfr-insights/files/pub_2002_cpfr_european_insights.pdf

[4] OASIS Web Services Business Process Execution Language (WS-BPEL), http://docs.oasis-open.org/wsbpel/2.0/OS/wsbpel-v2.0-OS.html

[5] OASIS SET TC, http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/set/

[6] EPCglobal Standards Overview, http://www.epcglobalinc.org/standards

[7] Fosstrak: Open Source RFID Software Platform, http://www.fosstrak.org/

[8] GS1 GDSN (Global Data Synchronisation Network) (2008), http://www.gs1.org/productssolutions/gdsn/

[9] Openbravo ERP, http://www.openbravo.com/

[10] Preece, J., Rogers, Y., Sharp, H. (2002), Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction, New York: Wiley