Ask the Expert: What’s the Difference between EPCIS and EPCIS 2.0?

This is what you need to do to prepare for – and take full advantage of – the new GS1 digital traceability standard.

A warehouse worker uses a ring scanner to scan boxes.
by Matt Kowalski
June 16, 2022

EPCIS 2.0 is coming! That’s great news for you, your partners, customers, and anyone who needs or wants to keep a pulse on items as they move through (increasingly decentralized) supply chains. But how does the new digital traceability standard differ from the original EPCIS traceability standard that’s widely used today? And will you have to completely overhaul your track and trace infrastructure to conform to the new EPCIS 2.0 standard? 

Those are some of the questions I asked our in-house experts, Scott Olson, Reuben George, and Andre Luecht to answer. Scott has been deeply involved in the development and review of the standard update these past two years, working with GS1, IOTA, EVRYTHING, and nearly 200 other global experts to make sure this standard serves the best interest of industries, organizations and even consumers. And Reuben and Andre have been advocating for more comprehensive track and trace standards and solutions for food and beverage, pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods the last several years. In fact, Andre just spoke at the GS1 Connect event about “Unlocking the Power of IoT to Simplify Cold Chain Management.”

All three understand the value of EPCIS 2.0 and want to ensure you do too. They also want to explain the role you will now play in this global movement to improve product traceability. Here's a compilation of information gathered during recent conversations…

Matt: Fundamentally speaking, what is the EPCIS standard?

Scott: EPCIS is a standard that enables organizations to share information about the physical movement and status of products through the supply chain from initial production to consumer purchase. More specifically, EPCIS is a visibility standard, meaning its goal is to enable the creation of applications that share supply chain event data within and across enterprises. Anyone using such an application can have a shared view of physical or digital objects and their relevant business context. For example, when a label is printed for a case of widgets, it represents the creation of that case of goods. When the barcode on that label is subsequently scanned at the loading dock when the case is put on the truck, it represents the shipping of that case of widgets to its destination. EPCIS provides a common structure for those activities to be described in a meaningful way.

Matt: Why is an update to the EPCIS standard needed? What will EPCIS 2.0 provide that the current standard can’t?

Scott: When the current EPCIS 1.2 standard was ratified in 2014, the core business and event models defining the “what,” “where,” “when,” and “why” were largely settled, but the implementation standard was not designed to be implemented using modern cloud technologies. This EPCIS 2.0 update modernizes the standard for the cloud by replacing technologies such as SOAP and XML, with REST and JSON-LD. It also supports the GS1 Digital Link standard, which is intended to enhance, and one day replace, the UPC and EAN standards for barcodes.

Matt: Has EPCIS 2.0 been fully ratified yet? Can companies use it today?

Scott: It was released for final community review in October 2021 and is targeted for ratification in the next few months.

Matt: Will companies currently using EPCIS have to migrate to EPCIS 2.0 for traceability? Or will they have an option as to which standard they use?

Scott: Great care was taken to ensure backward compatibility of the EPCIS event models so organizations already using the older standard can continue to reap the benefits. That said, I believe most will migrate their legacy implementations to take advantage of the updates EPCIS 2.0 provides.

Matt: Will companies need to overhaul their infrastructure or business systems to conform with EPCIS or be considered fully compliant by GS1? 

Scott: Our goal is to enable organizations to adapt GS1 standards for track and trace use cases making as few changes as possible to their infrastructure or business systems. I know you’ve mentioned this in one of your past blog posts, Matt, but the market is fragmented in its implementation of supply chain solutions. One way to solve this problem is to enable data to be captured via devices in GS1 standards, thus reducing the need for expensive ERP system integration.

Matt: Even if companies aren’t leveraging the EPCIS standard today, why should they consider conforming to the EPCIS standard from this point forward? 

Reuben: Product traceability is a key component of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) regulations impacting food and pharma industries. EPCIS enables standardization across supply chain stakeholders, and the key benefit is in integration and scalability. With everyone in the supply chain speaking EPCIS, it becomes easy to both solve the traceability problem and provide additional rewarding information to customers and other stakeholders, such as product availability, recalls, shelf life, diversion, authenticity and more. 

Andre: In essence, there is a defensive playbook in ensuring compliance with all regulatory authorities and avoiding potential fines. Even more compelling is the recall use case. Visibility into the various supply chain nodes in (near) real-time significantly reduces the financial fallout of a product recall. A clearly documented chain of custody and monitored hand-over points can help mitigate the risk. Just to illustrate, there is a recall of a food item nearly every single day of the year, driving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue a list of “Critical Tracking Events” it would like to see captured. This new EPCIS 2.0 standard delivers this data on time and in a way accessible to all participants. It also provides context – the “business steps” (receiving, loading, arrival) or explanation as to “why” some data has been captured. 

Obviously, the positive effects – or the offensive playbook – are the main reason for implementation. With cloud connectivity, the cost of deployment and access to the captured data have dramatically improved. Most supply chains rely on dozens of stakeholders and possibly hundreds of captured data points before an item reaches the customer. Making this data available and easily accessible can highlight bottlenecks (dwell), optimize processes and resource allocation (“there is a labor shortage, this is critical”), and potentially make supply chain operations faster, cheaper and safer.

Matt: Are there certain types of supply chains that benefit more from EPCIS? Or that will benefit the most from EPCIS 2.0, perhaps?  

Reuben: Though most supply chains stakeholders will see benefits from EPCIS, we believe food and pharma supply chains will benefit even more. EPCIS 2.0 has the option to include metadata such as temperature, and this will help enable use cases such as temperature compliance, a necessity in the food and pharma industries. 

Andre: This is key. The ability to include this metadata right into the feed – especially temperature or GPS readings – will both simplify regulatory requirements and allow for faster reaction to deviations. Imagine re-routing a truck carrying eggs to the nearest cold chain warehouse if the refrigeration unit in the vehicle malfunctions or optimizing the shelf life of an avocado by prioritizing a specific truck unload in the cross-docks. 

Matt: Do you expect to see immediate changes in supply chain traceability once EPCIS 2.0 is ratified? And would it be reasonable to expect more detailed and valuable EPCIS event data to be widely utilized by the end of 2022 to help downstream entities better react to real-time issues? 

Andre: The landscape is quite fragmented here. The fewer stakeholders in the supply chain, the higher the degree of integration, and the faster the benefits will materialize. There are a number of industries that will emerge as early adopters because the product that is being moved is either very fragile and/or valuable or the supply chain is “owned” by the brand owner or manufacturer with limited service providers that need to be convinced. 

So, in theory, everyone would benefit from deploying and using the new EPCIS 2.0 standard. In practice, industries with the largest pain or highest benefits will lead the charge. Those making and moving perishable food, pharma, electronics, and branded higher-end consumer products will be first. 

Matt: Speaking of proactive versus reactive…how much does EPCIS 2.0 support supply chain planning and optimization? Could the standardized data be used to anticipate and mitigate issues? Or is it really intended to provide accountability, improve billing, and enable the fast execution of recalls if needed?

Andre: Half a year ago, I would have said the main advantages could be found in the short-term, reactionary planning and execution of middle-mile and last-mile distribution. The current situation in origin ports in China and destination ports in the U.S. adds another layer of benefits. Knowing where items are in the supply chain, in particular in container, drayage and rail yards, becomes increasingly important. This data is an important signal and contributes to successful e-commerce fulfillment execution. All major supply chain planning applications need this granular, real-time input.  

Matt: How specifically will EPCIS 2.0 impact Zebra track and trace solutions? 

Reuben: EPCIS 2.0 is at the center of everything we are working on with regards to Zebra track and trace solutions. Today, we have application programming interfaces (APIs) for fixed RFID readers that enable customers to implement track and trace solutions quite easily, and we are working on enabling a more complete solution that includes printers, scanners, and mobile RFID readers.  

Andre: If we are looking at current supply chain challenges, you can see immediate benefits from greater and more granular visibility. One aspect often overlooked is reliable communication to the end customer or even the next node in the supply chain. Although reducing dwell time at container ports might be difficult, the customer relationship could benefit from accurate location information. EPCIS 2.0 would definitely help in these cases.

Matt: If people have questions about EPCIS 2.0, what do they need to do to reap its benefits? And to understand how it may impact them, who should they contact?

Andre: Feel free to reach out to me for any industry pain point discussions and deployment options. You can email me at andre.luecht@zebra.com or message me on LinkedIn.

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Matt Kowalski
Matt Kowalski directs Business Operations for Zebra Technologies’ Chief Technology Office (CTO). His vast experience spans a wide array of disciplines and functions – product management, competitive intelligence, business and customer development, market research, operations, portfolio marketing, intellectual property, business strategy, product lifecycle management and voice of the customer.