Supply Chain

IiD*: Machine-readable electronic catalogues for an agile and self-organised procurement process in the future.


Electronic catalogues are used for several reasons to transport information about products. These data can be configuration data, property structure, commercial data, technical data, graphical data, text, description, classification data and catalogue structural data and are used for different processes, such as selection of products, order of products, for installation and payment or for services [1]. Product data is used in a lot of different systems. The problem relates to how these product data from different sources can be linked agile with each other at the point in time where it is needed, without high implementation and consulting costs. In order to realize this, different standards have been developed in order to make the information machine-readable.

The European Interoperability Framework for European Public Services 2.0 [2] identified three dimensions that have to be taken into account: interoperability levels, the interoperability chain and interoperability standards.

Figure 1: Conceptual levels of electronic catalogues [3]

Concentrating on the interoperability levels, technical interoperability and semantic interoperability, six conceptual levels have been identified by DG-MARKT Study “Electronic Catalogues in Electronic Public Procurement” (figure 1) [3]. Level 1 concentrates on product definition, identification and description and, thereby, on the meaning of the product [3]. Several standards have been put in place for the identification of products: GLN, GTIN, NVE, EPC, PZN, DUNS, … [4]. On the second level, standards exists for the classification of products or for lists of products [3]. Examples of Classifications standards are: eCl@ss, UNSPSC, GPC, ETIM, prfiCl@ss [5]. On top of level 1 and 2 describe ontology Ontologies support a flexible information model with entities and relations of all available product classes and their set of properties for a dictionary.[3]. At level four are standards for the description of electronic documents containing information on products [3]. Standards are for example PRICAT, BMEcat, cXML, DATANORM/ELDANORM [6]. Level 5 on the next stage describe the communication between the ICT systems and level 6 sets out the end-goal of all levels [3].

GoodRelations [7] is, for example, an ontology used by Yahoo, Best Buy or Peek & Cloppenburg for publishing information about products in machine readable way. It is used for the linked-data to describe products based on RDF [8]. On a B2B level different consortia have been formed to address the problem of interoperability. They provide the generic templates, which allow the effective exchange of information, such as Open Buying on the Internet (OBI), eCo, RosettaNet, commerce XML (cXML), and BizTalk [9].

Looking at these standards, not only does the European Commission have a problem to identify the right standards to be used, but also all organisations have to be aware of which standards they should concentrate on.

Idea in development*

Based on this general problem, I’m currently working on a concept for mobile agents to be able to identify possible vendors for required demand and exchange the details about the product. These agents must be able to easily read and understand the provided products and services of an organisation.

Currently, different electronic marketplaces exist, which bring the demand and supply side to one platform, being able to integrate both sides into one’s one ERP system. But these marketplaces are some kind of single point of failure, if we only concentrate on one marketplace for all products.

The proposed solution should not only be able to connect to different electronic market places, but also be able to use electronic catalogues, which have been published on the web (for example with GoodRelations). Furthermore, this solution has to be integrated into the ERP system, so that the master data of the products is delivered correctly and the derived documents are based on the same data.



[1]   G. D. Stefano u. a., „Deliverable D3.1 Functional, Technical, legal and organisational specifications for the development of Building Blocks Software enabling cross-border use of eCatalogues“. 2009.
[2]   European Communities, „Draft document as basis for EIF 2.0“. 2008.
[4]   PROZEUS-Transferplattform, „Identifikation“, 2011. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 31-Juli-2011].
[5]   PROZEUS-Transferplattform, „Klassifikation“, 2011. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 31-Juli-2011].
[6]   PROZEUS-Transferplattform, „Katalogaustausch“, 2011. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 31-Juli-2011].
[7]   M. Hepp, „Goodrelations: An ontology for describing products and services offers on the web“, Knowledge Engineering: Practice and Patterns, S. 329–346, 2008.
[8]   RDF Working Group, „RDF – Semantic Web Standards“, 10-Feb-2004. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 31-Juli-2011].
[9]   S. S. Y. Shim, V. S. Pendyala, M. Sundaram, und J. Z. Gao, „Business-to-business e-commerce frameworks“, Computer, Bd. 33, Nr. 10, S. 40–47, 2000.


*) Idea in Development

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