16+ Essential Terms To Help You Understand Digital Supply Chains

The digital supply chain is an incredibly complex space that continues to grow in complexity as enterprises in all of commerce transition from incumbent to burgeoning technologies and processes as they adapt to a world that continues to move more online. More specifically, the term digital supply chain refers to the retail ecosystem (and its entities, enterprises, and technologies) as related to the transfer of digital product information, or product data, from the source to retailer and any stop in between. (See McKinsey’s 2016 report “Supply Chain 4.0 -- the Next Generation Digital Supply Chain” to see how advances in supply chain management empower organizations to become more efficient.)

To help you navigate industry terminology and jargon, we’ve built this glossary (which we’ll continue to update) with key terms related to the digital supply chain and associated technologies.

We’ve divided terms into the following subcategories:

  • Inventory and catalog data
  • Software and business systems
  • Internet-based data transfer

Inventory and catalog data

While the first digital supply chain technologies were developed to help retailers and their largest suppliers keep track of inventory in real-time, technologies have evolved over the years to include the management of the basic product data that a retailer would store in their product catalog.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) - is the point to point the electronic communication of business transactions between organizations or trading partners, with data conforming to one of several standards (the first of which was introduced in the early 1980s) depending on the country and industry in question. Purchase orders, confirmations, invoices, shipping updates and other data companies need for real time inventory management can be handled by EDI.

EDI Virtual Area Network (EDI VAN) - a network of EDI users managed by a provider. Since EDI is a point to point technology, a provider maintains one to one connections with the members and sits at the center of the resulting network.

Global Standards 1 (GS1) - is a non-profit organization that develops and maintains a range of standards for business communication, the best-known example being the Bar Code.

Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) - a family of GS1 data structures used to identify products, with the North American standard being the Universal Product Code (UPC).

Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) - is an internet-based integration system allowing trading partners (manufacturers, distributors, retailers, etc.) to share GS1 standard conforming data in real time. Participating trading partners can gain access to the GDSN through any of 41 different GDSN Data Pools operated by commercial enterprises, the largest being 1WorldSync.

Software and business systems

Businesses today use a wide variety of tools and systems to create, store, and organize their product information, digital assets, and business data. Below are some of the most common types of systems, though any given system may have features that fall across multiple categories.

Content Management Systems (CMS) -  are used to manage the creation and modification of digital content. While features vary widely, most CMS systems include web-based publishing, format management, version control, edit tracking, indexing, search and retrieval.

Digital Asset Management (DAM) - refers to the management of digital assets and includes annotation, cataloging, retrieval and distribution of pictures and other digital assets. DAM systems may be viewed as a subset of CMS systems.

Product Information Management (PIM) - a PIM is used to develop, manage and organize information about products, with a focus on the data required to market and sell the products through one or more distribution channels.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) - refers both to the process and associated systems used to manage and integrate the important parts of a business. An ERP management information system integrates areas such as planning, purchasing, inventory management, sales, marketing, finance and human resources.

Master Data Management (MDM) - aims to prevent, contain and eliminate errors and inconsistencies across multiple datasets managed by the same company, often on different systems (such as those described above). This involves the integration of different datasets, defining sets of permissible values, the creation of a central master dataset that can provide a single point of reference for various business systems, as well as analytics of that data to provide information which can be used to support decision making.

Internet-based data transfer terms

For information that can’t be transmitted via EDI or the GDSN Network, organizations must send files to each other using more flexible internet-based solutions. After the simple, but limited, email attachment, the following are some of the most common methods.

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) - a network protocol used to transfer file between a client and a server over the internet or a local area network. From the users point of view, you are able to log onto a “drive” over the internet using an FTP client and upload or download files from that drive.

Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) - a network protocol that uses a Secure Shell (SSH) to encrypt and securely transmit files across an unsecured network, predominantly the internet.

Cloud drive - Cloud drive solutions including Google Drives, Dropbox, iCloud and Microsoft’s Onedrive make sharing files simple. Users can give each other access to different files/folders, or even send a link to a specific file through an email or messaging application like Slack

Application Programming Interface (API) - a set of protocols, routines, and tools provided by one piece of software, specifying how other systems/software can interact with it. APIs allow software developers to integrate separate systems, such that System A can retrieve or upload information/data from System B automatically (depending on what the API in question allows).

Vendor Portal - a web portal run by a major retailer to collect product information from their vendors/suppliers.

Retailer Portal - a web portal run by a manufacturer to allow their retailers to access and download product information and associated digital content.

Interested in improving the efficiency of your digital supply chain? Let's talk about how you're managing your product content.

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