October 10, 2011

Electrical Marketing – IDEA E-Biz Forum Charges Up Tech Crowd

The crowd at the IDEA E-Biz Forum, the annual meeting of the electrical wholesaling market’s technical tribes, is always a little bit different than other industry gatherings.

That’s because instead of hearing a bunch of CEOs, presidents and other senior marketing and sales executives from electrical distributors, electrical manufacturers and independent manufacturers’ reps haggle over sales projections, pricing and delivery issues and other orders of business, at the annual E-Biz Forum you hear IT personnel getting very excited about the best ways to slice and dice clean, rich electrical product data so it makes the most sense and has the most value to all users in the electrical channel.

The 170-plus registered attendees at the 2011 E-Biz Forum held last week in St. Louis, Mo., were treated to more than two dozen seminars and roundtables on the more technical side of the electrical business designed to help them do just that. Topics included developing rich data with the attributes necessary for online storefronts and other e-commerce applications; cleaning product data; understanding building information management (BIM) systems; selling with tablet computers; populating electronic catalogs; utilizing mobile technology; and harnessing the powers of social media.

A main thread of many of the conversations at the Forum was inconsistent data, an issue not new to anyone on the IT side of the business in the electrical market. It’s also a big problem with companies of all sizes outside this industry. Andrew White, a consultant with Gartner, told attendees at the opening session that Procter & Gamble had the same problem on a much larger scale because its many divisions were using much of the same product data, but the information was in many different formats. “The problem of inconsistent data has been around for years,” he said.

One of the big topics of discussion at the forum was the launch of IDEA’s new Data Management Platform (DMP), which is designed to provide electrical manufacturers and distributors with a user-friendly interface they can utilize to jointly manage their data. Mike Wentz, IDEA’s director of sales and marketing, chaired a roundtable discussion on the DMP at the opening session and Melissa Longnecker, IDEA’s business analyst, did a DMP seminar after the general session.

An intriguing new product on display in the E-Biz Forum’s Tech Center was RepFiles, a new system for working with digital electrical content on tablet computers for sales applications. Developed by John Hoelz, president, J.F. Nolan & Associates, New Berlin, Wis., an independent manufacturers’ rep and NEMRA member, RepFiles is designed to help reps, manufacturers and other electrical professionals utilize tablet computers to access manufacturers’ product information such as specification sheets, videos and other promotional product data while on sales calls.

One of the highlights of the E-Biz Forum each year is the Richard Buzun Award presentation, which is given annually for leadership and innovation in e-commerce in the name of Richard Buzun, IDEA’s second chairman and a senior executive with Siemens for many years. This year’s winners were Border States Electric (BSE), Fargo, N.D., and Cooper Industries, Houston. Greg Thrall, senior V.P. of operations, Border States, and Scott Feldbush, director of EBS shared services, Cooper Industries, accepted the awards on behalf of the winning companies. In announcing the winners, Bob Gaylord, IDEA’s president and CEO said, “The 2011 winners invested in the future by exploring and adopting more productive ways of conducting business with their trading partners. They are leveraging the outputs developed by the industry to generate positive outcomes for their companies which has a trickle down effect on the entire industry. Especially since they both share some of the secrets behind their success to help everyone else succeed,” said Gaylord.

The 2012 IDEA E-Biz Forum will be held Sept. 25-27, 2012, in Dallas.