The first day of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute's Information Technology forum in July focused on the initiative by retailers to synchronize data via a global database and have a common format for presenting their products. Presentations on data synchronization were made by: Mark Healy of Home Depot, Matt Deeter of Lowe's, Greg Lenard of Ace Hardware Corp. and Kristen Mascenik of UCCnet.

Home Depot, Lowe's and Ace Hardware use the global platform provided by UCCnet, a subsidiary of the Uniform Code Council that developed UPC bar codes. UCCnet provides a global item registry, EAN*UCC system standards validation and item data synchronization.

The retailers have announced a deadline of Jan. 1, 2004 by which any company that does business with their stores will have to follow their vision of data synchronization.

Kevin Price, director of the American Supply Association's Center for Advancing Technology, said that CAT is working with the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute to address the retail sector's mandate to manufacturers.

"It just makes sense to us that if we can assist manufacturers in supplying this information to both our Industry Database (IDB) and the UCCnet initiative, we will be saving the channel a lot of unnecessary expense," Price said. "This way, manufacturers could export one database for all sectors of their businesses."

Harrison Publishing House provides the core data used in CAT's industry database. Harrison also provides information to contractor pricing books and software companies. Contractors and wholesalers are working with the same information, Price explained.

UCCnet is a not-for-profit, tax-exempt, neutral organization that provides item registry and synchronization services. As of mid-July, the number of UCCnet companies reached more than 760, including Home Depot.

UCCnet says its services enable suppliers and their retail partners to reduce costly administrative errors in invoice pricing, purchase orders, product delivery and scanning accuracy. In addition, companies can increase the speed of getting new products to market and facilitate continuous exchange of changes to existing item information. Synchronized data in a standard format also provides a solid foundation for realizing the true cost savings value of more advanced electronic commerce tools such as scan-based trading and Collaborative Planning, Forecasting and Replenishment (CPFR[r]).

PMI expressed its support of UCCnet and the initiative to synchronize data. "In view of the tight deadlines for compliance, we're doing all we can to facilitate the process," said Barbara Higgens, PMI executive director. "We've already had a follow-up conference call and more seminars are planned."

Another presentation the first day featured Dan Feely of Transforming Solutions Inc. (TSI) who spoke on the topic of "Adopting a Uniform Standard."

The second day of the forum involved discussions of how to enhance the use and effectiveness of company Web sites. Eugene Park of Intrust I.T. (who also presented to PMI members at the 2003 Spring Meeting) discussed XML language. Eric Lord of Project36 took forum attendees on a tour of the Internet and provided tips on how to enhance the value of Websites, build traffic and staying power and use the site to survey members.

PMI will schedule follow-up forums on such topics as adopting UCCnet and using RFID technology, Higgens said.

Certificates of completion were issued to the forum participants.

PMI hosted its third IT forum July 29-30 in Schaumburg, Ill. The association has hosted Information Technology forums since 2000 to equip IT and marketing personnel with information and tools needed to navigate the changing landscape of the Internet, e-commerce and other technological issues.

The July forum reflected the plumbing industry's movement beyond simple information exchange and into proactive identification and management, according to Higgens. "We've moved out of the 'surface' learning phase, and we're delving into strategic thinking and process implementation in which we as an industry can best prepare to meet our technological needs," she said.