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Supply chain integration and semantic standards

Even though the internet is providing technical connectivity between computers, this is not sufficient to integrate supply chain processes. While it is not too difficult to send data over the web, making sure that the meaning of that data is understood by the receiver is a different game. The semantics of the message need to be defined. If we can standardize the type of information we exchange and agree upon joint processes we can achieve true interoperability between businesses, government and other supply chain actors.

A lack of use of semantic standards and poor interoperability can lead to severe errors and high costs. As you can imagine, this is not easy to achieve. In fact it is a huge global challenge and requires international collaboration. That is why standards development organizations are working hard to promote the development and use of semantic standards. Increasingly governments are also putting in effort. Apart from facilitating the economy and reducing waste, proper use of semantic standards would also make government tasks to monitor trade and check compliance with regulations a lot simpler and more cost effective.

While many standards have been developed over the last decades, we have only just begun to explore the potential. There are opportunities to improve the standard development processes, the quality of the standards and the knowledge in the software and supply chain industries to adopt standards effectively. Standardization organizations are working on enhancing standards quality and providing training on standards use. Government bodies are encouraging the use of standards and serve as a ‘launching customer’ of open standards. Industry sector bodies have task forces that develop and document standards.

Have you come across semantic standards for your industry? Do you find them easy to understand and use? Have they been adopted by all supply chain actors or only by a few companies? Are they supported by the software systems you have installed?


Folmer, E., Luttighuis, P. O., & van Hillegersberg, J. (2011). Do semantic standards lack quality? A survey among 34 semantic standards. Electronic Markets, 21(2), 99-111.

Some examples of semantic standards:

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