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Back to the future: Sterling Commerce enables Rayovac to stay connected with low-tech retailers while moving forward with those pushing the technology envelope.

Madison, Wis.-based Rayovac's latest technology journey begins the same way those of many other CPG companies do--with Wal-Mart. "The primary reason we decided to implement AS2 was Wal-Mart," says Rayovac's director of business information technology, Brent Leland. "They mandated the AS2 piece about a year ago for all suppliers, so we began at that time evaluating how we were best going to approach it."

AS2, or Applicability. Statement 2, is the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Electronic Data Interchange over the Internet (EDIINT) specification that describes how to exchange EDI over the Internet. This means that EDI trading partners can purchase EDIINT application clients to send and receive data over the public Internet.

AS2 lets suppliers and retailers trade EDI documents across a public network, something that can't be done with EDI. "The problem with EDI standards is that it's all in clear text," says Terry Noreault, s.v.p., integration software for Dublin, Ohio-based Sterling Commerce. "You can't send a straight EDI document over the Internet. AS2 lets you wrap a standard EDI document with XML, allowing you to send it over a public network."

AS2 benefits retail trading partners in several ways, according to Noreault. "There is a reduced cost because trading partners can utilize their existing Internet connection. This saves both telecommunication costs as well as people costs. There are fewer protocols supported, and communication is faster with AS2, since it's an 'always on' connection. Finally, implementations are easier. Bisync [binary synchronous transmission] is somewhat idiosyncratic in implementation, because of its age. The standards are cleaner for AS2."

Rayovac was already using Sterling's Gentran for all of its EDI, so it became part of the technology company's early adopter program, implementing an early version of the Gentran Integration Suite (GIS). The GIS is a strategic integration platform sold in modular components designed to coordinate, automate, and manage business processes through the integration of internal applications and external partners. Through the use of GIS and the Sterling Information Broker, Rayovac was able to support Wal-Mart's mandate in less than a month, without changing already established business processes with other customers and suppliers.

The Sterling Information Broker is a centralized intermediary that enables the electronic flow of business information, global collaboration, and integration between trading partners, regardless of the technology used. By providing Internet-based "on-ramps," it allows data to be converted to human-readable formats and delivered to small-business partners via e-mail or fax. It also works the other way around--Rayovac's retail customer can send information via fax or e-mail, as well, and it's translated to electronic for mat en route to Rayovac

This ability that Sterling provides--to handle both high-tech and low-tech trading partners--is crucial for Rayovac, which deals with a variety of retail customers. "Right now we have separate processes for every retailer we deal with," Leland says. "Some have Web-based data entry for updating item data, others we send a spreadsheet. Some even do it manually--we send them a fax."

While making sure its low-tech retail customers are covered, Rayovac also had an eye on the future of business-to-business transactions, specifically data synchronization, which many retailers are looking to implement. "We had a mandate only for AS2, bur we want to get a leg up on data synchronization to be prepared for the future," Leland says. "From the retailer's perspective AS2 is a better path for future projects, whether it's data synchronization or XML-type mapping, or even as the next step toward implementing their RFID strategy."

But data synchronization is a bigger step to take than AS2, so Rayovac won't be rushing headlong into it. "AS2 is basically EDI--sending purchase orders, invoices, and advance ship notices," Leland says. "UCCnet involves looking at our item data. There are probably 150 attributes on a four-pack of AA batteries. All of that data must be continuously updated in the data repository. Most of this data already exists in our SAP system as part of our master item data; it's just a matter of getting a process in place to get the data out of SAP and to handle updates as they occur.

Once the process is in place, however, Rayovac expects to move on it quickly--sometime this year, according to Leland. "Synchronization will have everyone reading off the same page, increasing speed and efficiency for each of the trading partners involved," he says.

And which trading partner do they expect to work with first on data synchronization? Why, Wal-Mart, of course.

Nonfoods editor Joseph Tarnowski can be reached at jtarnowski
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Title Annotation:Supermarket Nonfoods Business
Author:Tarnowski, Joseph
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 15, 2004
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