Sandpiper Has Arrived: A new Framework for Automotive Content Exchange

Sandpiper: A New Framework for Automotive Content Exchange

Anyone who tries to keep up with technology knows that technology innovation doesn’t rest.

Over 25 years ago, the automotive aftermarket took the first steps toward digital exchange of applications and product data. The initial breakthrough was in defining a predictable and machine-readable way to exchange complex automotive content between trading partners. The Aftermarket Catalog Exchange Standard (ACES) and the Product Information Exchange Standard (PIES) have become widely adopted as the de facto standard “language” for exchanging automotive content. 

ACES and PIES do not dictate what the content should be – but they do standardize how the content should be expressed. The advantages of the standards are that fewer resources need to be devoted to formatting, compiling and exchanging data. And with the speed and accuracy of digital data file exchange, new applications and product updates can be distributed faster and at lower total cost. It’s fair to say that the explosive growth in online automotive product sales (e-commerce share of auto parts sales is now 20%, according to the Joint Industry Report by AASA and Auto Care) would not have been possible without a standard digital method of data exchange.

But anyone who tries to keep up with technology knows that technology innovation doesn’t rest. In fact, the need to increase innovation is accelerating. ACES and PIES are excellent at defining how an element of data is expressed. A Camaro is always known by the same Model_ID and the Unit of Measure for a Case is consistently represented by the same UOM_Code. But the biggest drawback of the standards today is that the typical method for exchanging product updates and new applications is for the brand-owner to send a full replacement file to their trading partners and data pools. Regardless of how many new product introductions are included, the entire catalog of products (from cover to cover) is sent electronically. Some brand owners send 200 or more complete files every month to ensure all their retailers and distributors are using the latest content.

The problem with the current batch file method of updates is the amount of time required for the receivers to decompile, validate and implement the changes in their systems. That process can take 120 days from the time the data files are received. And until that process is complete, new parts cannot be sold and new applications for existing parts get turned away. Simply put, million of dollars in sales are lost every week (perhaps every day) because receivers are plowing through billions of bytes of data every month in search of what’s new since the last file.

A small team of technology innovators found themselves at an industry event musing over the benefits and increased sales that would result from exchanging data updates at a granular level instead of by bulk replacement files. They concluded that a framework for piping data to trading partners continuously would lower the technical overhead and ensure that all trading partners and their customers were in sync. The Sandpiper framework was born, and the initial 1.0.0 release was published in September 2022.

The authors and team leaders of Sandpiper make several tenets very clear about the initiative:

• Sandpiper is an open-source service architecture and is not “owned” by any individuals or organization;

• Sandpiper is a language that enables data transfer – it is not an application that needs to be installed; and

• Sandpiper is content-agnostic and is designed to work in support of ACES and PIES, as well as other recognized standards.

Despite the tremendous investment made across the industry in support of ACES and PIES, the current method of typically exchanging complete files monthly or more often results in a data logjam. The effect of this is millions of dollars in unsaleable finished goods and millions of dollars in lost sales. Counter professionals and service shops don’t realize they are working with stale catalog and product data. But this is exactly the problem the architects of Sandpiper set out to address.

So if this is such a clever solution to such a huge problem, where do we stand and what needs to happen next? There are headwinds to be overcome in winning industry investment and adoption in a new method of data synchronization, even if the ROI is measured in increased sales and higher inventory performance. Education and industry awareness are the first order of business. Decision-makers, content professionals and IT executives need to understand what Sandpiper is and how their organizations can benefit. Pilot implementations and trials are underway currently with several brand owners and data service providers. Documented ROI and detailed case studies are needed to inform the early adopters. Talks are underway with the major trade associations to provide leadership and support of the initiative. That’s very different from asking the associations to provide governance or administration. Sandpiper will thrive if it remains an open framework, free of bureaucracy and overhead.

If you are interested in discovering a new way to increase your sales and inventory performance, then Sandpiper may be of interest to you. The version 1.0 Framework documentation and an informative video are found at Updates and Sandpiper presentations are sure to be on the agenda at Auto Care Leadership Days and the ACPN conference this year. In the past 25 years, the aftermarket transformed how catalog and product content is expressed. In the years ahead, the industry will innovate how content is exchanged. Doug Wiggin of the Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance summed it up best: “The potential of a services architecture is the accelerant our industry and the standard needs.” I add to that: “Go faster or get out of the way.”

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