A Call for Reason

While attending the IDEA Electro E-Biz Forum held last month in Vancouver, British Columbia, it was pretty easy to get excited about the progress IDEA has made over the past nine years. There was that certain buzz at this conference that you feel when surrounded by people who really enjoy what they do. The attendees were in e-biz heaven, with nearly 200 fellow technology geeks who spoke the same language.

At IDEA, it's cool to be an IT guy or gal, and at the Electro E-Biz Forum they immersed themselves in several dozen technical seminars with titles such as “The Benefits of Advanced Ship Notices;” “Special Pricing Authorizations: The Benefits of Automating the Process;” and “Asset Management Through Unique Identification: How to Identify Assets Using the GS1 System.”

The array and quality of the seminars covered at this year's meeting were indeed impressive. But education has always been only part of the story with IDEA.

IDEA's believers belong to this unique group because they all have the same reoccurring dream: They want to help build the technical infrastructure for a whole new way of doing business in the electrical market. They volunteer their time in the hope that they will create something that can really make a difference in the electrical wholesaling industry, something that's bigger than themselves or even their companies.

Their successes to date with EDX and the Industry Data Warehouse are indeed impressive, and they stand out compared to many other vertical segments of the wholesale-distribution industry (See “IDEA E-Biz Forum Report, p. 26). Yet IDEA's dreamers have miles to go before they sleep. The IDW still only has a fraction of the enriched product data that it needs to help its distributor-members provide their customers with the state-of-the-art online shopping experiences that would rival their shopping excursions at www.grainger.com, www.llbean.com and www.landsend.com.

One reason the IDW lags in this respect is that not enough electrical manufacturers have classified their data using the standard classification system that IDEA is helping to build using the UNSPSC (United Nations Standard Products and Services Code).

Note to manufacturers on enriched data and standard product classifications: This isn't just techie-mumbo-jumbo. If you invest in your online product data by providing enriched data for each and every stock-keeping unit (SKU) and classifying each SKU properly, you will sell more stuff because end users will be able to find your products much easier. Period.

It's a shame politics may now stand in the way of IDEA's progress and that the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED), St. Louis, and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Rosslyn, Va., may have taken their eyes off the ultimate prize — an electrical marketplace where product data is a sales tool that helps all companies sell more stuff, eliminates wasteful paperbound processes and ultimately improves profits for all channel partners.

I don't pretend to know everything that went into the IDEA board of directors' decision to remove Mike Rioux as the group's president. I do know Rioux is a stand-up guy who is one of the electrical industry's true leaders.

It's also not my intent in this column to report on what to date have been mostly anonymous tirades over that decision. I do know that in my 20-plus years covering the electrical market for EW, the formation of IDEA and earlier cooperative efforts to develop technical standards for electronic commerce in the electrical market have been some of the industry's biggest accomplishments.

From the earliest days of the industry's e-biz movement, IDEA's dreamers put aside their competitive differences and worked together toward one goal: harnessing technology to make the market a more profitable place for all of the companies in the channel. That's a simple but effective mandate, and I hope any future decisions regarding IDEA are made for the same reason.

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