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Publix Floats New Plan for Data Sync at GMA Conference

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- Publix Super Markets unveiled what its president called a data synchronization solution that would expand and accelerate existing industry efforts, with retailers' needs uppermost in mind.

"I'm excited about what Publix will do with data sync," said Ed Crenshaw, president and director of the Lakeland, Fla.-based chain, during a session at the GMA executive conference here earlier this week. What Crenshaw's particularly excited about is the new data sync proposal that the chain's IT team delivered to him just a couple of weeks ago. Crenshaw and Dan Bornman, Publix v.p. of product business development, for grocery and nonfoods, presented the details of expected savings and benefits to be accrued by Publix, should its vendors play ball. On the other hand, the two grocery executives suggested current industry progress is too slow, and that existing efforts would prove inadequate in delivering the benefits Publix wants from data sync.

Bornman listed what, from Publix's perspective, are the shortcomings of the "industry solution," including "painfully slow progress" that has not advanced beyond item and item location messages; a misplaced technology focus when business practices are where the real savings will be found; and standard item messages that lack the necessary fields to eliminate item data forms. In essence, he said, the industry solution won't eliminate paper completely and will leave fields of item data blank that, in Publix's view, retailers will need filled in, so that full cost savings can be achieved.

"For retailers, the industry data synchronization solution provides an additional process rather than an improved process that yields little benefit unless the retailers' item is significantly dirty (inaccurate)," the Publix executives said.

On other hand, the proposed solution is a Web-based interface with Publix that would integrate the Global Data Syncronization network of suppliers who can supply the data Publix wants electronically, with other non-GDS suppliers who can key in the needed information manually via Web-based forms. The key is that whether automatically or manually, all of Publix's suppliers can feed the chain synchronized data through a single, firewalled pipeline.

Bornman said the proposed Publix solution would save the chain close $1.4 million annually, and would push efficiencies through the process, beyond buying functions to tax and treasury departments, the space management lab, logistics, warehousing, accounts receivable, payments auditing, and payables. It would improve communications and reduce labor in processing deals and promotional allowances, streamline pricing, etc., and spur the chain's initiative to institute item location authorization and item demand forecasting by distribution center.

The Publix solution would cost the chain about $3 million to set up, Bornman said, not including costs associated with providing reports to suppliers on topics such as item demand forecasts by warehouse, item/store-specific void data and "others yet to be defined."
-- Stephen Dowdell
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