This week, I attended the Swiss GS1 Systemtagung in Olten, a workshop on GS1 standards and related matters. There were three main themes: digital bills, food labelling legislation and GDSN. I also gave a presentation about the use of GTINs in Google Shopping.
The conference started with a presentation on the importance of standards – interesting even though I don’t need to be convinced about that. I found the sessions on digital bills very interesting, while there are EDI solutions for electronic billing, they don’t scale well for partners who exchange bills infrequently. The proposal for Switzerland follows a german standard: ZUGFeRD. This standard is pretty elegant: attach machine readable XML to the PDF file of the bill. The file can be sent around by e-mail or any other messaging system. The attachment contains XML encoded EDIFACT data (ISO TS 20625), the PDF follows the PDF/A-3 standard (ISO 19005-3). The approach is very similar to what is done on the web, where machine readable information in the schema.org format is embedded within the HTML, either in JSON-LD format, or in micro-data annotations. The standard seems to be on track to become adopted also in France and in Switzerland and could be used for other forms of documents besides bills.
The second session was about food labelling. I found the rules pretty pragmatic: only industrial packaged good need to be labelled, other products (handmade things, as well as artisanal produce) are exempt, but the information has to be available either in some sign or orally. The general expectation is that farmers selling pots of jam don’t have to do the exact nutrient analysis, although I wonder if in five years this won’t be doable with a small mobile phone ad-on.
The last session was about the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN). This is basically the internet version of the old EDI point to point links, producers push product information into the network and retailers, but also certification agencies can consume this product data. The goal is that a seller only needs to provide the data once, instead of doing it for each retailer they want to sell their product with. The presentations were mostly various companies explaining their experiences setting up the system, which a big emphasis on the internal work to collect and structure the data internally.
All in all it was a very interesting conference, and I was very honoured to be allowed to present there.