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The Contractor Connection Revisited

Oct. 11, 2023
It may be time to forge that elusive link between the business systems of electrical distributors and electrical contractors.

At the recent IDEA E-Biz conference in Nashville, there was some serious talk about what has been for years one of the most elusive goals in the electrical e-business arena — linking distributor’s ERP systems with electrical contractors’ business systems so they are both using the same product and pricing data.

IDEA is open to all sorts of new ideas these days, and figuring out a secure way to have electrical contractors work through their distributors to access the clean, accurate product data stored and updated in the IDEA Connector (formerly the Industry Data Warehouse (IDW)) may be under consideration.

There’s definitely a closer link between IDEA and the electrical contractor community, and it makes good business sense for both parties. Josh Bone, the executive director of ELECTRI International, the research arm of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), has a seat on IDEA’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), and he gave a solid presentation at the IDEA E-Biz conference on the challenges contractors are having with procurement, materials management and the impact the worker shortage is having on contractor productivity and the promise of preassembled electrical products and systems (See article on page 28). Theoretically, linking contractors to the IDEA Connector through their distribution partner would slash the time spent waiting on quotations, cut down on inaccurate product and pricing data for contractors and help them operate more efficiently by streamlining their procurement process.

Linking electrical contractors’ business systems more closely to electrical distributors’ ERP systems isn’t exactly a new idea. Industry veterans may remember TradePower, and how back in the dot-com era it strived to help distributors link its Trade Service product data loaded in their ERP systems with the Traser pricing and product database that it sold to electrical contractors using the Estimation estimating package, which it also owned.

A 2003 Electrical Wholesaling article about TradePower’s efforts with its PowerPack and PowerStation software said, “Probably the most important feature of the system is the fact that both systems use the same product database, making electronic translation much easier. Estimation uses the Traser pricing and product database published by Trade Service, which was for years the sister company of Trade Service Systems. The product database produced by Trade Service is also compatible with Trade Service Systems business software for electrical distributors.”

TradePower’s efforts never gained the expected traction, but Trade Service is still very much a believer in the potential of an electronic connection between the business systems of contractors and distributors.

Now owned by the Trimble construction information conglomerate, Trade Service has for quite some time offered another service with a similar goal — SupplierXchange. The Trade Service website describer that service as a “digital pricing and procurement hub that connects distributors with their contractor customers where they work —using automation to remove friction from common supply chain activities such as price requests and purchase orders submissions.”

It will be interesting to see how and when this link may be reforged. One of the biggest challenges may be the fact that so many electrical contractors are very small companies that have not yet invested much in their digital commerce capabilities. By some industry estimates, the vast majority of the 70,000-plus electrical contracting firms in the United States have annual revenues of less than $25 million. Many of the largest contractors are already using sophisticated estimating, procurement and materials management systems. They may be ready for the link with distributors.

IDEA may be in the best position to provide this link. It has a leadership team in place that’s willing to listen to new ideas and they are not afraid to try consider new markets and ventures. Forging a link to electrical contractors’ business systems may be an idea whose time has finally come.