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"Inovis is a leading provider of on-demand Business Community Management solutions that empower companies to transact, collaborate and optimize communications with
every facet of their business communities. By standardizing and automating mission-critical business interactions, companies can dramatically reduce the complexity and cost of supply chain communication."
Resolving Image Exchange Issues
Image Management is also known as :
Image Library Software,
Digital Asset Management,
Image Management System ,
Digital Image Management,
Image Database Management,
Master Data Management,
Master Data Management,
Customer Data Integration,
Master Data Managementdata Warehouse,
Master Data Management BI,
Image Data Frame Synchronizing,
Image Reproduction System Data Synchronization Method,
Image Data Synchronization Method,
Digital Asset Management Image System,
Digital Image Metadata,
Digital Image Viewer,
Digital Image Editing.
PICTURING A NEW IMAGE
The picture-to-words exchange rate is oft-quoted, but the cost of pictures is rarely
cited. That does companies throughout the supply chain a disservice as the creation,
storage, organization, exchange and retrieval of images is an expensive,
cumbersome challenge. Nonetheless, images are widely used in business. From
manufacturers selling to distributors and retailers, through to retailers promoting products
to consumers, and several points in between; images help to add value as goods move
through the supply chain.
To date, the management and exchange of images has been a source of frustration. Image
files using a variety of formats are often dumped into desktop or server hard drive
directories, undocumented and unlinked to the associated product information.
Furthermore, the exchange of images between suppliers and retailers tends to be ad hoc,
with little or no descriptive information about the image being transmitted with the file.
Consequently, retailers often incur large costs to reshoot product photographs that are
essentially the same as photos commissioned by suppliers; photos that the retailers already
have, but which have been lost in the morass on a hard drive.
There is a better way. Using a Supply Chain Community Master Data Management
approach, electronic data synchronization already allows suppliers to record product
information once and make it immediately available to all of their distributors and retailers.
The logical next step is to include product images in the data synchronization service. That
way, all product information, including images, will be easily accessible to anyone who
Just storing images in the data synchronization service is not enough. Often, multiple
pictures depicting different views are created for a single product. And members of the
creative team occasionally need to find pictures based on the characteristics of the image,
not necessarily the product. For example, a graphic designer working on an ad for a
department-wide shoe sale might want a side shot of pair of blue high heels, regardless of
the brand, as long as it is one that the retailer sells. Giving the designer the ability to find
image files that meet those criteria necessitates storing fully searchable image metadata
data about the image's attributes along with the images.
This paper expands on these image challenges and proposes solutions.
Table of Contents
- Image Uses
- Image Issues
- Solution Requirements
- Solution Benefits
- About Inovis
When they're available, images can serve a vast array of purposes for
supply chain partners. The following is only a partial list:
Supply Chain Management
- Shipping: Help to ensure that the right item is shipped. The problem is
likely never as stark as illustrated in Figure 1, but pictures can reduce
even subtle errors.
- Claims: Document problems with received cases or items.
- Replenishment: Help to validate what is being re-ordered.
- Stock Inquiry: Validate that the requested item is the one located.
- Stock Locator: Aid employees in locating requested items.
- Consignment: Show what is being sold on consignment.
Advertising & Promotion
- Advertising: Display an item in advertising material.
- Promotion Management: Tie an image to a particular promotion.
- Catalog/Web Selling: Display the item.
- Signage: Place images on in-store displays.
- Point of Sale: At the store shelf, show customers what's in the box.
- Gift Registry: Display what is chosen.
- Voucher/Gift Certificate: Validate that the item and gift certificate match.
- Loaners: Validate the item.
- Sales Forecasting/Market Research: Aid in determining what sells.
- Sales Planning: Aid in determining what is being put on sale.
- Merchandise Planning: Aid in determining what is going to be sold.
- Store Planning: Aid in developing plan-o-grams.
- ERP: Aid in business planning.
- Human Resources: Use the pictures of employees in press releases, newsletters, etc.
- Real Estate Management: Aid in determining real estate locations
- Loss Prevention Analysis: Compare employee's pictures with videos that captured suspicious
movements in some areas.
As the above suggests, few modern companies can avoid the
use of images in their operations. Despite being stored
digitally, as is the case for most other corporate data,
images aren't like other data. Creating, storing, sharing and
retrieving images introduces challenges that don't exist for
the highly structured names, words, codes and numbers that
are typical of other business data. This section examines
some of these image issues.
In most cases, images are stored as standalone files. At
some point in the future, it may be possible that
sophisticated pattern recognition software will able to hunt
through these files to find a particular image based on its
content but, for the most part, that technology is not costeffectively
available to companies today. Instead, when
someone needs a particular picture they typically have to
either guess from its file name what's in an image file or
they have to manually scan through thousands of thumbnail
images. Keyword searching is rarely an option in this
And even when a human or some future pattern recognition
software identifies the picture content, critical information
about the image, such as whether or not it can be legally put
to the intended purpose, is not inherent in the image. If
metadata (literally, data about data) providing this
information has not been documented and associated with
the file, the prospective user of the image must contact the
supplier to authorize its use.
Under these conditions, trying to find the needle in the
image haystack can consume hours of valuable time. What's
more, the search is fallible. Searchers often don't find what
they are looking for even when it is, in fact, there.
Consequently, new photography may be ordered simply
because the creative staff didn't realize a similar image
already existed. The cost of that photography can be a
substantial drain on a company's profitability. But while
companies may realize that there is waste, duplication and
cost associated with this process, there has never been a
way to fix the problem.
Electronic images come in a variety of file types. The more
popular among the alphabet soup of competing encoding
formats include JPEG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, EPS and PSD. Not all
of these are supported in all companies, which significantly
complicates the exchange of images between supply chain
Style & Angle Variations
Suppliers and retailers often need multiple images for each
product. For example, some products have to be seen from
a number of perspectives to be appreciated. And, in the
case of clothing and upholstered furniture, there might also
be color swatch images and detail shots showing fabric
Linking these image variations to each product and finding
the right one when needed can be a challenge.
As suppliers update the look of their products they issue
new photography. With multiple versions on file, the chance
that human error will lead to an out-of-date image being
used is high.
Lack of Metadata
One of the reasons why it is so difficult to sort through
image files and select the right one is that raw images do
not include any metadata that describes the attributes of
the image and the depicted product. Because of this lack of
metadata, it's impossible to use keyword searching to find
the needed image.
Prices for a product photograph vary considerably but, in
general, image creation is expensive. A typical independent
photographer might charge a major customer $50 for a
very simple product shot. However, if you want a photo taken in a particular setting by the
most talented of photographers, with a top model in the picture and considerable digital
enhancement performed on the photograph after it is taken, the cost can soar to several
thousands or even tens-of-thousands of dollars.
These costs would be enough of a drain on profits, but the problem is compounded because
they are often incurred redundantly. For many items, such as appliances, hardware, office
supplies, groceries and household supplies, to name but a few, a photo from the supplier is
often sufficient for retail advertising and catalog purposes. Even when the retailer wants the
item to appear in front of a particular background, it is often less expensive to digitally
manipulate a supplier's image than to shoot a new photograph.
Because image files are not directly tied to the products they illustrate and there is no
searchable metadata attached to the images, retailers and their suppliers often lose track of
what pictures they have. Even if they know they have a needed photo, in the absence of a
searchable image library, the human resource cost required to search for the image might
be greater than the cost of reshooting the photo.
Obviously, these expenses have a very tangible impact on profitability. An AMR Research
article published in 2004 stated, "Depending upon the approach, the cost to enter a single
SKU as content, including images, ranges from $25 to $580. We believe that most retail
companies are spending in excess of $350 per SKU, with the cost equation varying by
image variances and SKU complexity." For retailers that carry thousands of SKUs, any
reduction in the image component of this cost can materially improve their bottom lines.
What would an ideal product image storage and exchange solution look like? This section
reviews some of the more important requirements.
A Single Point of Storage
The logical place to store product images is in existing electronic data synchronization
service. This would automatically attach images to the related product. Employees would
then no longer need to hunt through large volumes of raw image files on desktop and server
hard drives. Instead, when they need a picture of a particular product, they would be able
to simply access the data synchronization service, locate the product and download the
To minimize cost and complexity, the data synchronization service should be a single point
of storage that is shared by suppliers and retailers. This will allow suppliers to upload
images once and make them instantly available to all authorized retailers.
Supply chain relationships are many-to-many. Each supplier sells to many retailers and/or
distributors and each retailer and distributor buys from many suppliers. This characteristic
of supply chain relationships creates at least two arguments against using in-house data
synchronization processes maintained by one of the supply chain participants. First, the
company maintaining the data synchronization processes will have to figure out how to
accommodate all of the various communication protocols in use by all of their trading
partners. And, second, the companies accessing one data synchronization service will also
have to access all of the data synchronization services maintained by their other trading
partners. Those data synchronization services will likely be incompatible, meaning that the
companies will need to set up and learn different procedures to access each one.
A third-party data synchronization service that has gained wide acceptance in the industry
and is used by a wide variety of suppliers, distributors and retailers would provide a much
more practical solution. The third-party solution can act as a centralized hub for all product
data, including images. The hub can also assume responsibility for transparently interfacing
between differing communications protocols and translating between incompatible data
Multiple Image Support
If one image is good, four say, left, right, top and bottom perspectives or more is better.
Thus, the data synchronization service needs to be able to associate multiple images with a
single product. In addition, the creators of those images must be able to designate one as
the reference image that will, unless another is specifically selected, be the default
displayed when only a single image is shown.
Furthermore, the data synchronization service should accept images at any level in the
product hierarchy. For example, for maximum flexibility and usability, the data
synchronization service must allow users to store images at the category, product and
individual GTIN levels.
By storing images in an electronic data synchronization database, product metadata will
automatically be attached to product images. A department store graphic designer creating
a flyer for a home furnishings sale will be able to, for example, use that metadata to search
for all images of leather chairs.
That's a major benefit, but an ideal solution would provide much more. In addition to
product metadata, the data synchronization service also needs to store image metadata
information about the attributes of the image itself. If, for example, the above-cited graphic
designer wants a right-side view of a dark brown leather chair and needs an image with a
resolution of at least 1,200 dpi and one that the image supplier (likely the furniture
manufacturer) has authorized for such purposes, she shouldn't have to sift manually
through many images that don't meet those criteria in order to find the few that do.
In this example, even in the absence of image metadata, finding the right color chair
shouldn't be too difficult as the search facility will likely use a slide sorter layout to display
thumbnails of all found images. Ignoring all of the green and cream-colored leather chairs
would be easy. But why should she have to do that selection visually? It would be much
more efficient if color was included in the image metadata so she could include "brown" in
her search criteria.
It might be easy to identify colors visually, but the other traits listed in the above example
image resolution and, in particular, publication rights are not. If the necessary metadata is
not associated with the images, the designer may have to open up the file to check the
resolution and call the supplier to verify that she is allowed to use it in the flyer. That would
consume considerable time, particularly when the designer has to sift through hundreds of
images. A better approach would be to include comprehensive image metadata in the data
synchronization database so that searches return only the images that meet the users'
requirements down to the most granular level.
Because a number of suppliers and retailers will need to connect to the data synchronization
service simultaneously, it should use an industry standard connection technology. Web
services are emerging as that widespread standard. However, not all companies support
Web services, so other protocols should also be supported.
Ease of Use
For the most part, the people who work with images are
very comfortable with desktop computers be that PCs or
Macs but they are typically not hard-core "techies".
Consequently, an image exchange solution must provide a
simple interface that looks and feels much like the
applications that image creators and users already employ.
Further advancing its ease of use, the solution should get a high "works well with others"
score on its report card. The ability to simply drag-and-drop images between other
applications (or folders) and the image exchange solution, rather than having to hunt for an
image in file system directory lists, would vastly improve the productivity of the solution.
An image exchange solution, such as the one sketched out above, will deliver a number of
benefits. The most important can be categorized in three areas: cost savings, quality
improvements and revenue opportunities.
Images are expensive. By having ready access to existing images, retailers will not
have to reshoot photos that are virtually identical to ones already provided by the
Exchanging images is expensive. There are a variety of incompatible file formats
and communications protocols out there. Resolving the conflicts between them in order
to exchange image files can be a costly exercise. By assuming responsibility for
reconciling these protocol differences, a centralize hub can eliminate this expense. In
addition, unlike the current situation where suppliers send images to all retailers
individually, shared data synchronization allows suppliers to save considerable time by
uploading images once to make them available to all authorized retailers.
Image storage is expensive. High resolution image files can be very large. Storing
thousands of them can consume considerable disk space. In contrast, using a shared
data synchronization service the image is stored once rather than redundantly on
every supplier, distributor and retailer's hard drive. The result is a significantly reduced
need for disk space across the supply chain.
Manually searching for images is expensive. Trying to find the one right image by
visually searching through thousands of pictures and/or trying to guess about image
based on its arbitrarily assigned file name can consume several hours of work and,
thereby, incur significant human resource costs. In contrast, associating both product
and image metadata with images facilitates keyword searches that can dramatically
reduce the human resource costs associated with image searches.
Replacing lost images is expensive. Images stored higgledy-piggledy on a hard
drive can easily be lost or, worse, unintentionally deleted, thereby requiring costly
reshoots. In contrast, storing images in a product-based data synchronization
database permanently associates them with the related product images, meaning that
the images will never be lost and there is considerably less likelihood that they will be
Even with modern bar-coding and RFID tags, mistakes are occasionally made by pickers,
packers, shippers and receivers. The cost to ship back wrong products, ship out the right
ones and, probably worse, leave store shelves empty while all of this happens, can be
tremendous. Many of these mistakes can be eliminated if everyone in the supply chain can
consult a picture of the product they need to pick, pack, ship or receive while they are doing
their jobs. And with gasoline prices creeping higher every passing minute, reducing or
eliminating unnecessary reverse logistics and transportation will help manufacturers battle
against shrinking profit margins due to errors.
Mistakes aren't limited to the movement of physical goods. Web and catalog shoppers
depend on images when making their purchases. In addition, as suggested above, many
employees depend on images to do their jobs. When images are inadvertently associated
with the wrong product, the results are customer dissatisfaction and hampered work
processes. By permanently associating images with the product they depict, the chance for
error is significantly reduced.
Pictures sell. But many retailers have to curtail their use of them due to the high cost of
images. By significantly reducing this expense, an efficient and effective image storage and
exchange solution can make the use of pictures cost-effective in more situations, thereby
One can argue at length as to whether pictures really are worth a thousand words, but what
is not open to dispute is that creating, storing managing and exchanging images is a
significant expense for many companies. That would be true even if those images were
created, stored and used only within a single company, but the problem is compounded
when they must be shared among supply chain partners. Differing image formats and
communications protocols makes these many-to-many image exchanges a serious
Fortunately, technology and the marketplace offer a
solution. Third-party product data synchronization services,
which eliminate the complexity by serving as a central
product information hub for the whole supply chain, can be
enhanced to store images. This will provide the immediate
benefit of directly associating images with the related
products, while doing away with the need for suppliers to
manually send images to each of their distributors and/or
By also associating metadata with the images in the product-based data synchronization
database, those images become easily and quickly searchable, thereby dramatically
reducing the cost of using them.
The bottom line is that an effective image solution will make image storage, exchange and
retrieval much more affordable and significantly easier.
Inovis is a leading provider of supply chain communication solutions that help businesses
improve the flow of information across their trading community. Our industry-leading,
integrated solutions standardize, synchronize and streamline communication to increase the
percentage of perfect orders and expedite the order-to-payment lifecycle. With more than
20 years of expertise, Inovis delivers its products and services to more than 20,000
companies over a wide range of industries and markets across the globe.
Inovis Catalogue&8482; is the retail industry's leading product data synchronization application,
allowing marketers, manufacturers and suppliers to share with retailers their latest product
information, such as price, style, color, size and over 540 additional product attributes. And
the recent addition of comprehensive image support adds significant value for supply chain
Inovis Catalogue offers a complete solution for item setup and synchronization, supporting
the latest EAN.UCC System global standards and initiatives so that companies can move
forward with confidence in a standards-based technology when they are ready.
Home to more than 100 million current and unique items from more than 5,000 vendors,
manufacturers, suppliers and their retail customers, Inovis Catalogue has the retail
industry's largest database of product information. With its unsurpassed breadth and
reliability, Inovis Catalogue is the cornerstone for global retail product synchronization.
Inovis was recently named a "Company on the Move" by Consumer Goods Technology, and
was included in Supply & Demand Chain Executive's "2006 Supply & Demand Chain
Executive 100," Inbound Logistics Magazine's "Top 100 Logistics IT Providers" and Apparel
Magazine's annual "Software Scorecard." In 2006, IDC ranked Inovis
15 on its list of top
Supplier Relationship Management Application Vendor table and
3 in the Worldwide
Supplier Collaboration Application market. In addition, Inovis successfully completed the
Statement on Auditing Standards (SAS) No. 70, Service Organizations, Type II compliance
audit. Independent, third-party auditors awarded the company with an unqualified opinion,
meaning there were no material instances of noncompliance.
With a proven track record for enabling retail supply chain automation, Inovis ensures fast,
reliable product data synchronization setup and support to reduce time to market and drive
increased sales immediately.
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