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EFR Not in Spotlight, But Not Inactive;Industry Effort Set to Deliver Workable Efficient, Effective

ARLINGTON, VA - Not much has been written about Efficient Foodservice Response (EFR) these days, but that is not to say the EFR initiative has closed shop - hardly.

As evidence of the on-going energy supporting this effort, great strides have been made in the implementation of the foundational elements of EFR - standard product identification and bar coding. Highlighted in the most recent annual benchmark study, today 77% of all cases have UCC compliant bar codes as opposed to the mere 54% since the initiative's inception.

Mark Allen, recently-appointed president and ceo of the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA), Falls Church, VA, continues to have EFR as one of his top priorities and is spearheading the initiative's focus on electronic commerce.

Electronic commerce via the Internet was a non-issue when EFR was first launched. It is now a critical element of doing business, offering yet untapped potential savings and best practice information exchange. Through EFR's efforts, standards are being crafted to facilitate efficient e-communication between foodservice organizations.

Electronic Commerce Standards Committee
The effort to define and harness the Internet's potential has been in play over the last two years. In conjunction with the Uniform Code Council, Inc., EFR created an Electronic Commerce Standards Committee comprised of 45 foodservice organizations representing all members of the supply chain (manufacturer, distributor, operator and software suppliers).

This committee met again here last week to review its progress and to select its priorities for the remainder of 2004 as well as 2005. A glimpse of this meeting bodes well for the future of effective, as well as efficient, e-communication between foodservice trading partners. Steve Rosenberg, UCC director, channel management, facilitated the meeting with all members of the supply chain in attendance.

The work for most of us would be tedious, but for the members of this committee it is apparent that identifying trading partners, the attributes of product identification and the minutiae of business processes is a labor of pride. Unlike EDI, e-commerce through the Internet is accessible to everyone in the foodservice channel. The committee's work will open up new opportunities for small and medium sized organizations.

During the first half of 2005 the committee has set its sights on delivering an EFR Electronic Commerce Standards Guidelines. This publication is intended to assist organization's operations and IT personnel to work together in order to capture efficiencies the Internet has to offer foodservice businesses. The guidelines will detail standards for e-communication for product information, the order process, delivery process and payment process.

A high level summary of what the guidelines offer is summed up in the next three paragraphs. These business processes are currently being conducted in a multitude of ways through faxes, verbal communication, e-mail, paper-based communiqués and EDI. With the implementation of the guidelines the use of XML messaging over the Internet promises readily obtainable efficiencies for the foodservice community. All that is needed is a personal computer (PC), a browser and a desire for more effective business communication. What will go away is a lot of redundancy and re-do work.

Electronic Commerce Standards Guidelines
The trade item, order and price processes detail message standards allowing trading partners to communicate information about products and services, and quantities at specified prices for delivery at determined places and agreed upon times.

The delivery process provides standards that support the process of organizing goods to fill a specific order, moving the goods to the agreed upon location and reconciliation by the buyer that the goods delivered are in accordance with the confirmed order.

The payment process offers message standards that support the process of determining the correct payment and the actual transfer of funds.

Mechanics
Through the EFR work - agreement is being established regarding the information required to conduct each business process. The fields have been defined, i.e. how the information is to be presented, making it easy to capture and download the information.

The committee's work will allow the "brand owner" i.e. manufacturer of the product (national or regional brand as well as private label) to document the details of its product(s) in a uniform format, thus providing recipients with unvarying fields of standard information as appropriate to each product. This consistency eliminates any need for cross-mapping of information between trading parties.

This information is communicated to trading parties on a point-to point basis or through technology providers like UCCnet via the Internet. The e-communication employing XML allows computer to computer communication. The tasks of keying into one's IT system new or updated information, verifying the re-keyed information and human elements (like tardiness, data error due to mishearing or mistakes when re-keying) will be history.

For an example, new product information will be easily downloaded into the distributor's administrative/financial systems, its logistics software and its WMS through the acceptance of an XML message that contains the pertinent product information/attributes to facilitate the business processes involved in accepting a new product. All of the product data is sent and received via the Internet, computer to computer.

The ordering, delivery, or payment processes will work in a similar fashion, i.e. uniform messaging, standard formats, and minimal human intervention. Communication through standard XML messages will provide a greater degree of accuracy and efficiency as well as increase the speed of conducting business.

Implementation
Once the standards are developed and approved, the EFR committee intends to conduct pilots for each process and will communicate the learning to the foodservice community.

Software companies that support the foodservice supply chain are incorporating the XML standard messaging into their software as value added modules, as exhibited in other supply chains that have taken advantage of the ability for machine-to-machine communication.

The EFR initiative may have been "out of the news," but has not allowed grass to grow under its feet. The work of the EFR Electronic Commerce Standards Committee in conjunction with the UCC appears to be poised to deliver one of the most exciting promises of the EFR initiative - an obtainable means of conducting efficient and effective electronic commerce.

For more information please contact: Steve Potter, senior vice president of industry relations, IFDA, at potter@ifdaonline.org

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