November 29, 2007

A Brief History of IDEA

No other industry backed provider offers the spectrum of eBusiness standards and services that are available from IDEA. The credit for setting the program in motion goes to industry visionaries such as Steve Tecot, Dave Crum, Clyde Moore, Sandy Cutler, Jim McClung and many others in the mid to late 90’s (my apologies to those I may have inadvertently left out). Originally established on March 20, 1998 as a not-for-profit non stock corporation, IDEA’s certificate of Incorporation was amended on November 3, 1999 to a for-profit stock corporation with NAED and NEMA each owning one share of common stock. Subsequently, 23 companies became preferred stock holders of IDEA when their 2001 loans were converted to Stock.


The nature of the business set by the founding company representatives was for IDEA “to be or act to improve conditions in the electro-industry and other vertical markets by fostering the introduction and application of electronic commerce among market participants,” with the initial focus being the establishment of the Industry Data Warehouse (IDW).


After evaluating many different organizations to assist in the IDW project, a contract was signed with Triad Systems in 1998 (subsequently CCITriad and now Activant Solutions) to develop and operate the IDW on behalf of IDEA. John Haluksa (Thomas & Betts) and Jim Ford (Graybar) were the co-chairs that led a team of 22 industry distribution and manufacturing experts in the design of the IDW system with Triad Systems.


A no cost data sharing agreement was signed with Trade Service Corporation (TSC) in 1998 whereby IDEA and TSC agreed that it would be to their mutual benefit for TSC to participate in IDEA and promote the success of the IDW. Today IDEA and TSC share data, but other parts of the agreement did not turn out the way it was envisioned by industry for a variety of reasons that will not be discussed here.


The IDW was and still is the center piece for industry eCommerce collaboration allowing trading partners to exchange product and price information electronically through a common interface point. Global in scope, the IDW enables product manufacturers to deliver all their important business and price information through a central information bank, eliminating other more costly and less effective methods. In turn distributors and other authorized users have a single source 24×7 location for obtaining product and price using the same data standards.


To facilitate the delivery of the information to/from the IDW and to enable the exchange of business documents between manufacturer and distributor trading partners, a parallel effort was initiated to develop a private industry extranet called the Industry Data Exchange (IDX). MCI Worldcom was selected to design, deploy and manage the IDX for IDEA.


Both the IDW and the IDX became operational in November 1999. Since those formative years a lot has transpired and with the tremendous help and support of the industry as well as a superb staff, IDEA has grown to be a very successful enterprise. IDEA provides tremendous value to NAED and NEMA members as well as many other customers that use IDEA products and services. Notable milestones include:


  • The IDEA electrical manufacturer, rep and distributor customer base has grown from 125 in 2000 to 530 today.
  • The IDW system was completely redesigned and relaunched as the IDW version 2 in 2005. Since 2005 end user participation grew from 50 to 150. Reliability, accessibility and features are the strengths of the new IDW including the ability to deliver Net Prices. The IDW database has nearly 2M SKUs of transactional and enriched data representing over 500 brands of electrical manufacturer products. 
  •  Following a near death (end of business) experience with MCI WorldCom, a new IDX was developed under agreement with CCITriad (Activant Solutions), and launched in just 4 months. IDX version 2 became operational on April 1, 2001 with 50 loyal customers and 1M kilo characters of B2B traffic. Today, there are 350 IDX customers and 7M kilo characters of business documents transacted monthly via the IDX. Reliability and service are the cornerstones of the IDX service.
  • Following two years of fiscal challenges that were due to the terms of the MCI WorldCom contract, 23 electrical industry companies generously contributed funds in to help IDEA add staff and the redesign of IDW. Since that cash infusion IDEA has remained fiscally sound and profitable since 2003.
  • In 2002 IDEA assumed the responsibility for managing the electrical industry eBusiness data and EDI standards. The IDEA Standards Committee (ISC) was established and over 40 industry volunteers have supported this very important activity. The committee through its Data Content, EDI, Product Code, Product Identification, EDIFACT, Flat File and XML subcommittees has developed and revised over 50 standards documents. Standards and schemas were crafted for enriched data as well as Flat File versions and maps for enabling eCommerce for non EDI companies. In 2005 IDEA assumed management of all electrical product United Nations Standard Product Service Codes (UNSPC) through an agreement with UNSPC, a major “win” for the industry in managing version control for these public, global and non proprietary product codes.
  • In 2003 electrical manufacturers that also serve the retail channel requested IDEA’s assistance in addressing data synchronization mandates from Home Depot and Lowe’s. To answer that request, IDEA developed the Industry Retail Database (IRD). In 2005 IDEA completed an asset acquisition of ISS which gave IDEA ownership of the first Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) certified data sync application. As a result, IDEA became one of the three prime On Board Support (OBS) partners for the 1SYNC Data Pool and the GDSN. IDEA is now regarded by GS1 and GS1 US as one of the prominent leaders in global eCommerce. The IRD customer base has grown from 22 in 2003 to over 400 today, and IDEA is positioned to be a key player as the GDSN grows in the wholesale distribution channel.
  • In 2004 the Data Audit Certification (DAC) program was in full swing with 165 manufacturers getting their data evaluated against industry standards and business requirements. While the data validation process shifted from a manual to an automated component of the IDW, the DAC remains a key differentiator for data quality in the electro-industry.


Other recent milestones worth mentioning:


  • IDEA has been instrumental in helping IMARK and its members meet their eCommerce program goals with adoption of the IDX and the industry EDI and Flat File formats.
  • IDEA implemented a FAX to EDI service with its new business partner Faxinating Solutions.
  • Affiliated Distributors (AD) selected IDEA’s IDX to serve as its EDI service platform for processing 820 documents with its members.
  • DATAgility and IDEA formed a partnership to provide a new and very cost effective data synchronization service whereby distributor and manufacturer business information is matched showing where differences exist and recommending solutions and processes to eliminate the discrepancies.
  • A new IDEA website and product branding was recently unveiled, and IDEA will unveil its new customer portal by the end of 2007, allowing customers access to all services, knowledge base and account information through a single log on.