John Burke Steve Sokalow and Bob Gaylord at the IDEA EBiz Forum Orlando Fla Vince Saputo, Electrical Wholesaling
John Burke (left) and Bob Gaylord (right), joined to recognize the contributions Leviton's Steve Sokolow has made to the industry at the IDEA E-Biz Forum, Orlando, Fla., Oct. 27, 2013.

Innovation the Word at IDEA E-Biz Forum

The general mood was a mix of optimism and realism about the growing importance of data that goes beyond simple transactional requirements to provide the kinds of marketing data and media that distributors need to provide an effective online storefront — an offering that is being demanded with increasing urgency by the distributors’ customers.

The urge to innovate was strong last week in Orlando, Fla., where the Industry Data Exchange Association (IDEA), Arlington, Va., gathered its tribe of data mavens for a few days of meetings and networking.

After keynote speaker and tech entrepreneur Josh Linkner, founder of ePrize, kicked off the meeting with insights on directing a team’s creativity, Jay McLellan of Leviton Security & Automation and Dan Panattoni of Anixter offered real-world examples of what it takes to get a large company culture to care about and support innovation.

Attendance included data specialists, marketing executives and others from 25 manufacturing companies (that number includes multiple operating divisions of larger companies) and 24 distributors, plus a couple-dozen service providers, association executives and media. The general mood was a mix of optimism and realism about the growing importance of data that goes beyond simple transactional requirements to provide the kinds of marketing data and media that distributors need to provide an effective online storefront — an offering that is being demanded with increasing urgency by the distributors’ customers.

Along those lines IDEA had some of its own innovations on display at the conference. One of the more interesting ones was the iCIMM2 web storefront that IDEA is offering distributors in a partnership with Unilog. The storefront includes a sophisticated, consumer-style user interface with extensive built-in search capabilities that can be obtained by distributors as part of a catalog-level membership in IDEA’s Industry Data Warehouse (IDW). The storefront allows IDEA to offer distributors an e-commerce solution that integrates tightly with the data stream from the IDW while also providing IDEA with a source of additional revenue.

Mike Wentz, IDEA’s vice president of operations, said IDEA chose iCIMM2 after discussions with distributors who are part of SupplyForce, the integrated supply organization spun off from the marketing group Affiliated-Distributors. A small user group of distributors at the conference were enthusiastic about some of the most recent upgrades, particularly the flexibility of the system’s content management. The platform makes it easy for a distributor to spin off tightly focused ancillary sites to highlight product categories or customer niches and manage it all from a single interface. One distributor mentioned that his company was already using that approach to handle vendor-managed inventory (VMI) programs with large customers.

Wentz told Electrical Marketing that in retrospect he wished IDEA had thought to offer this sort of web storefront package to manufacturers long ago. “Then after we got them set up, we could have said, ‘OK,now you’ve done all the work to get your data formatted for your storefront, why don’t we make it available to your distributors, too?’ That would have made the whole process of getting manufacturers to provide full, formatted data so much easier.”

Bob Gaylord, president of IDEA, said that helping distributors prepare for the growing competition from sites such as Amazon Supply and Google was becoming a mission-critical emphasis for the data association. Using colorful metaphors from his experiences on 100-mile ultra-marathon races, he urged manufacturers to consider the long-run value of embracing contentious issues such as generic UPC identifiers and normalized product terms to help end users find their products more easily.

Another example of IDEA’s focus on innovation came in a roundtable discussion with four members of the association’s new Innovation Advisory Council (IAC). Panelist Phil Barrios, senior director of marketing and e-business for Hubbell and an IAC member, said the role of the IAC is to serve as a link between the vision of the executive board and the ground-level detail focus of the IDEA Standards Committee, helping to translate the vision into action.

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