GS1 Blog Series: Using GS1 Identifiers and SmartSearch with EVRYTHNG
Welcome to post #3 in our series exploring GS1 identifiers and the EVRYTHNG platform. If you missed the last post, read it here to catch up. (Don’t worry, we’ll wait…)
The EVRYTHNG platform has been built with a highly flexible data model geared towards providing the ability for anybody to digitally represent physical products and the world around them. This is done by providing a resource model that is based on real-world interactions, and has even made its way to the W3C as the Web of Things model. The following diagram recaps the resource types that are used today.
Figure 1: EVRYTHNG semantic data model, incorporating GS1 identifiers.
Modelling Your Products
Let’s look at your products first. Chances are they already have a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN). This is the number that GS1 defines to identify “products or services that are priced, ordered or invoiced at any point in the supply chain.” (You can find more details on the usage of GTINs here.) You also encode all of these GTINs in various barcode types on your products, typically as an EAN/UPC. The problem is that these identifiers do not automatically connect your products to the internet. What if you could offer them up to consumers to scan from your website or from a specific URL? This would turn your analog identifier digital, and would drive experiences for users. Users could get product information such as the consumer transparency content served up by SmartLabel™ or Sage Project, or engage with your brand further for discounts or contests. They could even be used to enable eco-conscious recycling and reuse.
You can extend the GTIN by serializing it, making it a Serialized Global Trade Item Number and embedding it in technology such as UHF RFID. This allows you to read large amounts of products in a short period of time, without line of sight. That’s easy using EVRYTHNG’s platform as well. We model serialized objects as ‘Thngs’, which are simply instantiations of products (or a “digital twin” to use Gartner’s terminology). The SGTIN (or EPC when encoded in an RFID tag) is simply the identifier of the Thng, where the GTIN is the identifier of the Product. The meta-model is the same, but now we’re at a more granular level. And as with Products, your serialized products are now available as web resources, addressable on a global basis.
Structuring Your Data
Modeling your products as we discussed above implies that we have a structured way of presenting data to external systems. Structured data is even more important now that we are exposing those identifiers as web resources. You could potentially standardize the data structure within your enterprise, but it’s likely other companies and systems will not understand it. Even worse, search engines, which thrive on structured data, are challenged by attempts to normalize everything coming their way. This is where GS1 SmartSearch comes in. As an external extension to schema.org, GS1 SmartSearch provides a common language to describe products that use GS1 identifiers. (You can read more about the launch of the SmartSearch external extension of schema.org here.) Because schema.org, GS1 and EVRYTHNG are all members of W3C, together we create a powerful combination to expose and share data in a structured and meaningful way. Our data model already supports this as well. It’s as simple as populating the relevant SmartSearch attributes as custom fields on your product (or Thng), and you’re ready to share the information. Here’s a quick example of what it would look like in the EVRYTHNG dashboard:
Grouping Your Products
While tracking and counting individual products is important, reality dictates that we typically do so at a higher level: cases, pallets and containers. You may assign GTINs to some of these elements, but you’re probably also using Serial Shipping Container Codes (SSCCs). GS1 defines SSCCs as identifiers that “identify a logistic unit, which can be any combination of trade items packaged together for storage and/or transport purposes.” (You can find out more about SSCCs here.) We simply execute these items as ‘Collections’ in EVRYTHNG. A collection is a grouping of Thngs, but you can also nest Collections within Collections. This allows you to model your exact product shipping structure, attaching GTINs, SSCCs, etc. along the way as identifiers on each of these collections. The model would look something like this:
These resources are web-based as well, just like Products and Thngs. This means that your GS1 SSCCs are web-addressable items that any service can consume and add information to along the way. This breaks down the barriers of data transfers and information sharing across traditionally siloed data stores.
Locating Your Products
So, we’ve modeled and identified your products and groupings of products. Keep in mind that this is all using identifiers that you’ve already had in your supply chain. We’ve simply digitally-enabled them. That’s powerful! Now, how about the location of these products? We can also model physical places as well to help build out a story of product movement and locations throughout your brand’s world, and beyond. GS1 does that with GLNs, so we’ll follow suit. GS1 defines the GLN as a Global Location Number “used by companies to identify their locations, giving them complete flexibility to identify any type or level of location required.” (More details about the GLN can be found here.)
In the EVRYTHNG platform, we have ‘Places’. These are physical locations with extended information that describe a location much like a GLN. In fact, you can use your existing GLNs as an identifier for a Place in EVRYTHNG.
Clearly your investment in GS1 Standards can be extended beyond your current use case(s). Making the items web-addressable unlocks all kinds of value from freeing siloed supply chain data to inventing new consumer experiences with your products. The trigger, or method by which a product is interacted with, is also flexible. Using UHF RFID tags in the supply chain for individual products, to 1D or 2D barcodes for in-store or at-home experiences/workflows all reference the same digital identity—using the best tool for the job at the right phase of a product’s life.
Now that we have all this data modeled in the cloud, how can we share it with other systems? GS1 has addressed that with standards around the Global Data Synchronization Network (GSDN) and Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS). We’re diving into those in the next blog post, so join us soon!