July 14, 2011

For Hubbell, eBusiness is a Philosophy

A conversation with Phil Barrios, Sr. Director, Corporate Marketing & eBusiness, Hubbell; IDEA Board Director; IDEA Industry Standards Committee (ISC) Chair

Hubbell Incorporated recently revamped the eBusiness section of their corporate website including an animated video that walks you through the benefits of eBusiness and the different options Hubbell supports to increase productivity with their partners. IDEA caught up with Phil Barrios, Sr. Director, Corporate Marketing & eBusiness, to find out more about their latest efforts. We discovered their website was just the tip of the iceberg – eBusiness goes much deeper into their corporate culture and philosophy with programs such as the Hubbell Sustainability Initiative (HSI).

IDEA: Can you please explain how and why Hubbell decided to create an eBusiness section of the website, and promote the benefits of Hubbell eBusiness to the industry?

Phil: The eBusiness section had been on the website since we completed a redesign about three years ago. However, it just listed some basics about electronic data interchange (EDI) and Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) capabilities. Every year we review our corporate communications strategy and decided that we needed to expand and re-emphasize all the eBusiness offerings available from Hubbell such as the Industry Data Warehouse (IDW) and Net Pricing. The website became part of a coordinated media campaign that also featured an ad utilizing a QR code in TED Magazine and an electronic brochure that is in the works for later this year. The other reason we wanted to enhance the “breadth of offering” was its tie-in to Hubbell’s Sustainability Initiative (HSI). Manual and paper processing is neither efficient nor eco-friendly, and replacing that with electronic and paperless processes is a better choice for all.

IDEA: Do you think that all manufacturers and distributors have a responsibility to proactively communicate the benefits of eBusiness?

Phil: It really is up to each company; we have certainly seen benefits in a number of areas we employ eBusiness principles. Some companies even view eBusiness as a competitive edge — enabling them to reduce their costs which result in either more profit and/or the ability to be more nimble than their competitors. As for sustainability, most definitely! It only makes sense to promote the benefits of eBusiness as an essential way to reduce waste and preserve natural resources.

IDEA: Hubbell is a leader in advocating the benefits of eBusiness; what have you found works well/what doesn’t?

Phil: Active participation in the industry has given us the most effective means to get the word out. Whether it was Tim Powers as IDEA Chair, my role in the IDEA Industry Standards Committee, or the many other Hubbell staff that have been members of NEMA and IDEA subcommittees over the past two decades; we are out in public, actively involved and trying to inch the ball toward the goal line. We are also early adopters – we were one, if not the first company in the industry, to provide incentives to our trading partners to conduct EDI. In some cases, we physically went to distributor offices to install and train them on how to use our PC-based application back in the mid-90’s, which eventually migrated to our Customer Portal, myHubbell.com.

IDEA: For the smaller companies that have fewer resources, do you have any suggestions for quick and easy strategies/tactics that have a high return?

Phil: Yes, I strongly recommend that these companies seek technology partners that can provide Software as a Service (SaaS) options, rather than making huge investments in software licenses, or development costs. The SaaS model provides a lower cost entry point, often bundled with tech support and training. SaaS is not just for smaller companies though; in fact, it is a model Hubbell followed for its VMI solution. Using the SaaS option from Datalliance (http://www.datalliance.com/), we’ve had tremendous success while lowering costs for our trading partners,and providing an excellent return for both.

IDEA: Any other advice for readers who are considering an eBusiness initiative at their company?

Phil: Get support from the top. We are fortunate to have Tim Powers, our Chairman, CEO and President, as an outspoken advocate for initiatives under the eBusiness umbrella, especially the use of the Industry Data Warehouse (IDW) to share product data securely with authorized distributors in one place and one format. We view this approach as the most efficient means to synchronize our product information and it fits nicely with lean manufacturing principles and our sustainability initiatives. eBusiness solutions should be a priority for those who want to eliminate waste (i.e. functions that don’t provide value-add such as rekeying data), improve the speed and effectiveness of new product introductions, streamline their business processes, and benefit from employee productivity (doing more with less).

IDEA: Sustainability seems to be a common theme – can you please tell me a little more about what you mean by that? What else in addition to eBusiness is covered in that initiative?

Phil: Sure, notable parts of our sustainability initiative are to better manage our resources, eliminate waste, and incorporate lean manufacturing as a means to improve how we do business. We conduct numerous Kaizen events throughout the year that identify “green” opportunities and focus on continuous improvement of business and manufacturing processes. At Hubbell, we empower our employees to stop production if they see anything that is incorrect or inefficient, and then schedule a time for everyone involved in that process to go into a room, map it out, and brainstorm ways to fix, redesign or redefine the process. We don’t leave until an improvement has been made. For example, when we started automating business processes with our trading partners via EDI, we noticed that the process took longer than we’d like. We held a Kaizen event to help identify bottlenecks, and to our surprise, there were over 100 steps involved from the time the trading partner called requesting to be set up with EDI to when implementation was completed. We mapped out the process and identified many ways to streamline the workflow; the improvements that resulted sped up implementations and cut costs for both Hubbell and our trading partners. A lot of times companies think that converting manual processes to electronic processes (e.g. EDI) is where the work stops, but it’s important to reevaluate your business processes after the technology changes so that you can maximize your investment.

IDEA: Any closing thoughts?

Phil: I am concerned that the industry isn’t moving fast enough to integrate eBusiness into all aspects of our daily business and I challenge both management and technical professionals to shift their focus from the technology of eBusiness to a philosophy of improving how we conduct business. EDI does not equal eBusiness – eBusiness is about looking at all the processes in your company and determining if there is a better way to reach a goal or complete a task electronically. Just because a company has performed a task a certain way for years, doesn’t mean it can’t change or improve. If your intuition tells you that something is inefficient, my advice is to speak up and take action. Odds are good that there is a way to improve that process, ultimately saving time, money and valuable resources – enabling the electrical channel to be more competitive and continue as the channel of choice.