October 24, 2012

InfoElectro – Myth vs. Reality : IDW Fast Facts for Canada

­By: Sonia Coleman, President, Coleman Unlimited
­Marketing & Web Consultant­­­

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With smart phones and tablets in hand, customers are demanding instant access to products online. Smart leaders recognize the need for standardized, automated product data to power distributor web storefronts and e-commerce sites. What better place to get clean, correct data than direct from the manufacturers themselves?

That is the concept behind IDEA’s Industry Data Warehouse (IDW): a centralized cloud-based platform to transmit accurate, complete product data direct from manufacturers to distributors.

It sounds pretty straightforward… and yet, many myths clutter the industry still. This became clear at the EFC’s Electrical Council’s Conference last June when the need for Canadian marketing data became a major discussion topic. We decided to provide insights to address Canadian manufacturers using the IDW. You’re invited to continue this conversation and share your thoughts on the EFC website and through the EFC LinkedIn Group.

Myth #1: The IDW doesn’t have enough data.

Reality: By leveraging the IDW, distributors can download product information for nearly 2.5 million items representing over 1,500 brands in the electrical industry. The IDW’s primary benefit to distributors is that it contains high quality information supplied directly from the manufacturers.

Electrical manufacturers have made tremendous progress populating the IDW with robust marketing content. IDEA has introduced an IDW Bands of Excellence program to recognize the manufacturers leading this initiative, and within three months, the marketing content in the IDW more than tripled. As of August 2nd, twenty-seven manufacturers have populated marketing content for 75 to 100% of their stock products and many are close behind them.

Many Canadian manufacturers currently submit data to the IDW – Cooper Industries Canada, Rockwell Automation Canada are leading the Bands of Excellence program in Canada. Cooper Lighting Canada was the first Canadian company to

 reach IDEA’s highest tier in the IDW Bands of Excellence program.

Myth #2: It’s a lot of work to get your data into the IDW.

Reality: Most Canadian electrical suppliers have parent companies that are already sending the majority of their product data to the IDW. Most manufacturers simply need to connect with their staff managing the data and develop a process that includes populated Canadian price sheets and other product information specific to Canada, such as French descriptions.

Myth #3: The data in the IDW isn’t secure.

Reality: The IDW passed security audits with the highest possible ratings, and IDEA’s IDW and Industry Data Exchange (IDX) are annually reviewed against security best practices protocol obtained from leaders in technology security. The IDW also enables manufacturers to authorize access for each distributor, ensuring that product and pricing information doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. This includes multiple levels of access to pricing structures and secure transmission of net-into-stock (negotiated) pricing.

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Myth #4: Canadian distributors aren’t asking for manufacturers to provide product data through the IDW.

Reality: Major Canadian distributors are frustrated with inefficient, manual processes that cost them time and money-and sales. Several distributors (Gerrie Electric, Sonepar Canada, Ideal Supply, Rexel Canada Electrical, WESCO Distribution Canada, E.B. Horsman, and Graybar) recently sent letters to Canadian manufacturers explaining why they need robust product data through the IDW. These distributors are asking for transactional, marketing and attributed data to be populated in the next six to nine months.

To find out more, contact Rick McCarten at 647-260-3087 or rmccarten@electrofed.com or Mary Shaw at 703-562-4610 or mshaw@idea-esolutions.com. More information can also be found online at: www.idea-esolutions.com/solutions-services/service/idw.

Sonia Coleman leads strategy at marketing and web firm NeuConcept Productions (www.neuconcept.com). She has been writing about the electrical industry for over a decade. Reach her at sonia@neuconcept.com.

Sidebar: The Industry Data Warehouse

A Manufacturer’s Point of View

­­By: Kevin Mallory,
­VP, General Manager,
Hubbell Canada LP

So, why has the Canadian Electrical Manufacturing industry not adopted the Industry Data Exchange Association, Inc. (IDEA) as part of their e-business strategy? It would, on the outside appear to be a worthwhile endeavour yet for many years now, manufactures have not stepped up to make standardized data available to their electrical wholesale partners. I recall sitting on many industry committees, strategizing about how e-commerce, the buzzword of the late nineties, could be adopted by the electrical industry to improve the transactional capability of the industry. That “buzz” existed many years before my involvement. Placing orders electronically just seemed to make sense. Many electrical wholesalers jumped on the bandwagon and were eager to take advantage of these transactions. Electronic commerce was healthy at that time and continues a robust existence today. But, for some reason, manufacturers are hesitant to step up and provide basic pricing data, (forget about attributed data for now), and the industry is befuddled as to why that is.

The Data Challenge

Let’s start with resources. Manufacturers are at different stages of their ability to provide standardized data files. Data compliance requires considerable initial effort that does not stop with the first submission of clean data. Clean data is an ongoing effort, not a onetime event. While it may be possible to offer good data once, there is an inherent requirement to be able to keep data up to date, complete and accurate beyond the first submission. The IDEA recommends participants update data at least monthly but would like to see data updated weekly. It is a commitment. Good data requires good people and processes to ensure its integrity. The most basic of information needs to be groomed regularly and requires resource(s) accountable for the integrity of the data. Attributed data on the other hand introduces much more work and complexity to the requirement. This requires resource input from manufacturing, marketing, and data administration to validate pricing and create product images, compliant descriptions and apply to multiple languages. Attributed data submissions can pose tremendous drains on resources.

Second, most manufacturers have already developed other industry accepted versions of data formats such as (PIPE) files. They are relatively easy to create from an excel spreadsheet and are formatted in a standard way that most systems are able to “read”. While many rely on this format to update pricing and data to electrical wholesale partners, there is variability in quality, frequency and standardization in comparison to IDW attributed data. So, although many manufacturers still do not comply with IDW formatted data, PIPE files represent an easy and quick way to send price files to electrical wholesale channel partners and over the past 10 to 15 years may very well have been the standard for data transmission making many manufacturers resistant to change.

Third, there are competing standards in the market place. The IDW standard competes with other standards such as the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN), a data format that has been adopted on a global basis by many retailers, health services, consumer electronics, transportation and logistics participants. Some would argue that the IDW is a proprietary data standard that limits their electronic trade to the electrical industry. Manufacturers find themselves in a situation where it is quite possible that the IDW requirements are not the only format or at least not the preferred format for promoting their products globally.

The Big Question

Finally, the big question is, “if manufacturers do build it, will they (electrical wholesalers) come?” If manufacturers are going to dedicate resources to this initiative, what guarantees do they have that this formatted data will be used? Distribution of price files is one thing, development of attributed data files is quite another and that is where the real investment in people, systems, data integrity, and ongoing infrastructure starts to enter into the equation. It would appear that the best way forward is to continue the dialogue between manufacturer and wholesaler to gain consensus on the importance of this initiative. The issue is gathering visibility in our industry – I am sure we will do the right thing in the end!

A Distributor’s Point of View

By: Marc Hurtubise,
Innovation and Technology Services Manager,
­Ideal Supply

Ideal Supply has been involved with the Industry Data Exchange Association, Inc. (IDEA) since the beginning. The IDW’s standardized format makes it easier to get the product information we need to go to market effectively. We are able to develop a web presence with proper searching of products as well as have the right pricing and most up-to-date products on our system.

If more manufacturers were populating the fields on the IDW, it would be amazing. It would make our lives so much easier. For the vendors that we do have on IDW, it’s such a simple task to go and update our system.

The Standards Are In Place…it is time to get on Board

Our biggest challenge is that our product data comes in so many different formats from manufacturers, and we have to check and modify the data before we can load it on to our system. Our frustration is that many manufacturers have provided their product data for the U.S., but not for Canada. What is the issue? We can’t move forward without that data.

For example, our central warehouse supplies all of our 30 branches throughout midwestern Ontario. We need dimensions for our products so we can have our system package and our skids in the most space-saving way. We also need to have catalog information, so our counter person can get that information quickly to our customers. We’re in an instant gratification world, where people expect information to be right there and available. If we have the information to give to our customer, we’ll make that sale right then.

The IDW has come a long way as a centralized repository of both transactional and attributed product data. The standards are in place. Now it is time to get on board. It is going to make everyone’s way to market easier, less expensive, and help us outperform other channels.