ECLASS - International classification system of the future

Created by Sergey Tikhomirov | Kodeks |


ECLASS international universal classification system for products and services was launched in 2000 as an initiative of 12 major German companies including Siemens, Lufthansa, Audi, Bosch, Bayer, BASF, RWE, SAP and other giant industrial corporations. In the past 20 years, the number of companies using ECLASS in their everyday business has grown to 3,500, with almost world-wide geographical outreach: besides the Head Office in Cologne, ECLASS Offices have opened in Austria, France, Switzerland, Portugal and Spain, South Korea, China and the USA. In 2020, ECLASS was officially launched in Russia: the only authorized distributor of the new classification system in the country is Kodeks, a company with 30 years of experience in regulatory and reference data management.

What is the secret of success of ECLASS and why do top European companies not only use it for trading with outside partners, but often choose ECLASS as the main internal classification tool? There’s no secret here: it has simple configuration and can be integrated quite easily, it meets international standards and the Industry 4.0 concept and it develops gradually but steadily.

ECLASS in Russia: Formats and Application

In 2020, Russia joined the ECLASS association, which includes over 3,500 companies around the world. Moreover, a regional ECLASS Office was opened in Russia — there are a total of nine such offices in the world including the Head Office. The only Russian distributor and provider of the ECLASS system in Russia is Kodeks, a company well-known in the market of reference data systems and in the field of international and foreign standards.

Right now, the official provider offers two ECLASS formats. The first version is “basic”, which is a set of XML files. It is intended for those who wish to independently integrate ECLASS into their system and gain insight into its functionality, to begin with. In any case, those who purchase the basic system should be prepared to work hard and long to integrate it, and, of course, they should know English or German: officially, the tool was translated into 16 languages, but a full translation is available in English and German only. There is no official Russian version yet - right now, Kodeks is working on standards-compliant Russian translation of ECLASS, and the first Russian version is expected to be released in 2021.

The second format offered by the official provider is the classification system as a directory in a shell of the TechExpert Reference Data Management System (RD MS). This option has its plus sides. Firstly, this ECLASS version has a graphic interface. Secondly, in addition to the interface it has all RD MS functions: add, delete, edit directories and classification systems, create links between different directories, etc. If a company already has its own RD MS and is not ready to give it up, that is no problem: TechExpert can be smoothly integrated with any systems including other reference data management systems. Thirdly, this format is ideal for those who already use or plan to use any TechExpert products. Originally, the RD MS was designed specifically as part of the TechExpert product line to meet client demands for a common reference data center, which can process requests from different elements of a company’s information system. The option of integrating ECLASS into the TechExpert RD MS can be a nice bonus for Kodeks clients. It is even more advantageous (and that is the fifth advantage of ECLASS in the TechExpert shell) because the parts of the classification system, in which Kodeks clients are interested, will be translated into Russian on a priority basis.

Naturally, Kodeks will offer ECLASS in the TechExpert shell to its clients, simply because integration solutions are already being developed for this format. Kodeks is particularly renowned for the development of integration solutions and is always ready to help the client, even in a most extraordinary situation. Therefore, it is definitely worth learning about ECLASS by consulting with the official provider, more so because it is free. 

ECLASS Development

If you look at the current ECLASS structure, you may notice that not all of its areas are fully covered: certain economic segments are comprehensive and detailed, they contain many commodity groups and products in them are described with dozens and hundreds of properties while others are not classified enough and lack product details.

But that is more of an advantage than a disadvantage of the system. Why? Because it is live and client-oriented: More data is actively added and ECLASS is expanded specifically in those areas in which the users are most interested, under the supervision of the professional community. At the same time, the ECLASS structure itself supports continuous addition of new classification items at all hierarchy levels — the top level (Segments), for instance, is more than one-third full. The same goes for other levels of the hierarchy. This continuous growth happens because of emerging users from new segments and companies with a new focus.

Russian ECLASS users may also find that the set of properties for commodity classes or their values in the classification system may disagree with the classification practiced in the user company. This is absolutely natural: companies even within one national industry may have a different concept of which information is necessary and sufficient to describe a product and, of course, Russian concepts are different from those in Europe, for which ECLASS was originally designed. However, the Industry 4.0 concept supported by ECLASS developers is supposed to narrow the gaps. Therefore, ECLASS users can propose new structural units to be added to ECLASS both directly and via provider. Such proposals must be reviewed by ECLASS association expert panels and, if they are recognized as truly valuable for the entire industry on an international level, they may be added to the next ECLASS Release. However, there is a way to include product properties, which are region-specific but especially important in the given region — when using ECLASS in the TechExpert shell, the client has the option of creating its own structural units in the ECLASS directory and use them in its own systems. In the TechExpert interface, custom units will look different from common ones - you will always know which data is correctly downloaded and read by foreign partners, and which data is for internal use only.

However, if you have an ambition to influence your industry internationally and set standards there, joining the ECLASS association has great potential. And the earlier you become a proactive user and co-author of ECLASS and the more structural changes you will propose, the greater the influence: it is easier to start from scratch than rebuild something old, well-established and having too many dependencies.

Kodeks Version of ECLASS: Opportunities and Prospects

Since Kodeks became the official ECLASS provider in Russia, it has been working on several priority development trends.
The first trend is, obviously, an adequate translation into Russian. It is time-consuming: each unit must be adequately translated from the original language (English or German) and further approved by the expert community of the given industry in Russia, since the conceptual framework within the same industry may vary greatly from country to country. As we said before, the parts of the classification system used by current ECLASS and Kodeks clients are being translated on a priority basis. However, as we said earlier, the first version of the translation is expected in 2021, — the Russian version just as the ECLASS system on the whole will obviously be revised and updated.

The second trend is the technical capabilities of the TechExpert RD MS with respect to ECLASS. As we said before, the RD MS supports creation of own commodity classes, their properties and preset values, not specifically in ECLASS but in any other directories you wish to upload. In the long run, user-specific structural units proposed for addition to ECLASS may be sent from the RD MS for review by the ECLASS association with one click (for now, you will still have to contact your provider). The work to enable ECLASS automatic update is also under way — right now, the provider is also responsible for timely updates, where applicable under the license. Top priorities for developers of the Russian ECLASS software shell are: one, making the system more user-friendly and two, finding solutions for its integration with new systems and software supported by the RD MS and uploaded directories including ECLASS.

The third, and perhaps the most interesting trend is comparing ECLASS with popular Russian classification systems and their integration development. TechExpert enables uploading several directories (what ECLASS and other classification systems essentially are) and linking them. In the long run, by assigning a product with an ECLASS code, the user will be able to see its codes in all other available directories. This is beneficial not only to certain users but to the entire global economy, since it meets one of the essential goals of Industry 4.0, i.e. unification of different national standards and overcoming regional gaps. This is a challenging road, and the Russian economy is making its first steps, but it has to go all way. And the earlier we start, the quicker will arrive at the end point and get a foothold.