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A Cross-Reference Solution
Creating product cross-references is out of reach, but helping distributors to identify products with a matching fit, form, and function is not.
For some time, IDEA has been challenged with a common distributor request: an industry-wide list of product cross-references. However, because IDEA is the source for manufacturer-supplied product information, it faces a huge dilemma. If a manufacturer does not provide product cross-reference information to IDEA, then that information will not be available through the IDW. Here, Paul Molitor, president and CEO, explains why a commitment to manufacturer-provided data means that creating product cross-references for the channel is simply not possible. “Not only would developing our own cross-references run counter to the concept of manufacturer-provided data,” said Molitor, “but also manufacturers warn that doing so has the potential to put IDEA at the center of any resulting product liability issue.”
Though cross-references are often educated and informed suggestions of a match between two products, there is no guarantee that all cross-referenced products match up exactly in form, fit, and function. As a result, it is possible that a contractor or end-user may use a manufacturer’s product improperly or unsafely. If that product selection was based on cross-reference information created by IDEA, IDEA would, by default, be involved in any issues arising from such misuse.
Though IDEA will not create its own cross-references of IDW manufacturers’ products, some manufacturers do currently maintain (or are considering maintaining) their own cross-references internally.
These internal cross-references help manufacturers to identify products within their own product lines that may be relatively interchangeable with one another or with competitors’ products. A manufacturer can also seek out viable replacement parts or substitutes to offer if a particular product requested is unavailable or for a product that the distributor is not authorized to sell.
Manufacturers may choose to share these internal cross-references with their authorized distributors on a one-to-one basis but have not typically allowed for that information to be hosted in the IDW. However, in the event that a manufacturer does wish to make this information available to authorized distributors through the IDW, IDEA will support and host that manufacturer-provided cross-reference information.
In addition, IDEA will be asking its Industry Standards Committee to examine the notion of an “associated products” data field in the IDW. Structured properly, this area could be used as a way for manufacturers to identify to their distributors related products and potential substitutions if the item is part of a system.
Beyond the Cross-Reference
Why have electrical distributors repeatedly requested industry-wide cross-references? Reasons cited include a need to be able to view comparable products between manufacturers and brands to find appropriate product substitutions for their customers and a need to better support electronic communications with their customers’ business systems.
However, viewing a cross-reference as the only way to address these needs presents a narrow perspective. In fact, the same results can be accomplished using product data that manufacturers are already providing to the IDW.
As a result of IDEA’s expanding Data Certification Program, for example, more complete data is being populated in the IDW. This complete, high-quality product data enables distributors to create more effective search criteria in their own business systems based on various product codes and attributes, the same type of enhanced searches they have been seeking to conduct through a cross-reference.
With this information, distributors can more easily keep their business systems up to date, provide their customers with the most appropriate product substitutions, respond faster to contractor quote requests, and improve online catalog searches for their customers. At the same time, the visibility of manufacturers’ products is increased in front of a wider audience, and distributors are able to better sell their manufacturers’ products.
Will IDEA create its own industry-wide product cross-reference? No. Will it support manufacturers’ internal cross-references? Yes. Will the complete, high-quality data that is being populated in the IDW as a result of the Data Certification Program help distributors to successfully identify products with matching form, fit, and function? Absolutely.