October 21, 2014

electroindustry Magazine – View from the Top: Standards Incite Innovation

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The electrical industry is never stagnant. Whether due to new government regulations, technological developments, or end-user preferences, this industry must constantly evolve to respond to changing environments. So, too, must the standards on which our industry is based.

Two of the main bodies responsible for those standards are NEMA and IDEA, the standards-setting bodies for the electrical industry. As NEMA Board of Governors Chairman and IDEA President and CEO, I see firsthand how the standards work done by both organizations is closely related.

The standards put in place by NEMA surround electrical products and are primarily technical in nature, ensuring that products manufactured and sold are safe and properly functioning. IDEA, on the other hand, focuses on eBusiness standards and best practices for product data and how that data is exchanged between trading partners. 

IDEA Standards Improve Business 

How can standards surrounding product data improve the way you do business? By streamlining the data sync process and trading partner communications; getting your products to market faster; and decreasing the time, effort, and cost needed to do so. IDEA’s Industry Standards Committee (ISC) develops and maintains eBusiness standards governing business-to-business communications, data content and quality, and product information, including: 

  • Electrical Attribute Schema: The schema is the industry-approved guide for manufacturers to communicate descriptive product information (e.g., brand, voltage, color, etc.) to trading partners through the Industry Data Warehouse (IDW). IDW, built on standards, provides a centralized location for the exchange of consistent product and pricing data. In turn, it allows you to provide additional descriptive information to help differentiate products, increase brand recognition, and make it easier for trading partners to sell your products. 
  • EDIPro: EDIPro, an electrical industry-specific electronic data interchange (EDI) guideline, helps you communicate in a B2B environment and conduct EDI seamlessly with your trading partners, reducing the time it takes to become EDI-capable. As a subset of the ANSI X12 specifications, you can use the EDIPro guidelines to automate business processes, send and receive EDI documents through IDEA’s Industry Data Exchange, and import/export product information to/from the IDW.

What’s Next? 

What does IDEA have planned to continue evolving and innovating industry product data standards moving forward?

Through a collaborative partnership with ETIM International, IDEA is working to align the schema with its European equivalent, the European Technical Information Model (ETIM). This will provide a consistent set of product categories and descriptors for North America and Europe. As more companies continue to expand into the global environment, this alignment will improve and streamline their business processes internationally. 

  • Evolution of Schema: The schema is a living document, subject to enhancements reflecting changing industry needs. For example, new product categories and additional levels of granularity were added to the schema just last year. That enhancement not only better aligned it with the ETIM standard, but also provided a more precise product categorization process for manufacturers, and helped distributors better represent products on their eCommerce sites.
  • Partnering more closely with NEMA: NEMA’s product experts, from the Codes and Standards Committee and product sections, understand how to build a product, while IDEA’s team brings with it data and eCommerce know-how. IDEA and NEMA will work more closely to develop an even stronger set of industry product data standards, leveraging NEMA’s experience in processes learned during their development of product standards. 
  • Working with NAED: The National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED) has developed best of breed educational programs for their members, and has pledged to assist IDEA in developing curricula for IDW data use. This joint effort will likely lead to a certification program to benefit electrical distribution and increase operational quality throughout the channel.
  • Focusing on Quality: The standards team will work to set standards for quality data in the IDW, identifying and defining what distributors consider to be quality. This will provide guidelines for how your data should look to facilitate a smooth transition of your data from an IDW download straight into your trading partners’ webstores, without additional manipulation, to make it “web ready.”

Our industry is constantly changing, and by building off of the foundation of standards and knowledge IDEA already has in place, we’re able to evolve with it.