The electrical industry’s association-owned master database of product information is coming in for a major overhaul. The Industry Data Exchange Association (IDEA), the product data and e-commerce support organization formed 18 years ago by a joint effort of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED), announced a partnership with Stibo Systems, Arhaus, Denmark, to rebuild IDEA’s Industry Data Warehouse (IDW) on Stibo’s master data management (MDM) platform STEP Trailblazer.
The upgrade was necessary because the original system, in use for 18 years, had outlived its usefulness, said Maan Hashem, who recently joined IDEA as vice president of products and services. IDEA originally contracted with CCI Triad to build the IDW. That company was acquired by Activant, which subsequently was acquired by Epicor. The original IDW used a platform designed and built for the automotive parts aftermarket, and the system has seen one major upgrade during the last 18 years.
As demands and expectations about product data evolved to support e-commerce functions beyond simple transactions, the existing platform grew more cumbersome to manage as it was asked to do things it was never designed to do, said Mike Wentz, IDEA executive vice president.
“What we experienced over the last several years, as those demands grew, it was becoming more people-intensive in order to keep up with those demands. So that’s what made it necessary for us to upgrade the platform to be able to grow the business and meet the needs of our clients for the next decade or so,” said Wentz. “When IDEA was put together it had a fairly skeletal staff and everything was outsourced to partners. Now we feel we have to have more control over the technology. Customers are asking for more and they want everything faster. With the shift to the new platform we’ll be able to respond quicker and provide better service.”
The agreement with Stibo will give IDEA that more hands-on capability, and the association is adding to its technical staff so that it can do more of the work in-house. At the same time, the new platform will enhance customer service by giving that team much better access to the data, so manufacturers and distributors should see improvements in responses to their needs.
“Our client services team will be able to do a lot more with a lot less,” Hashem said. “All the work of loading and extracting the data gets more automated, more facilitated, so client services can do the work with less effort.”
The new system will give everyone involved — manufacturers, distributors and IDEA staff — much better visibility into the data, Wentz said.
The benefits of the new system will be most apparent to manufacturers in how they are able to manage their data. The process by which manufacturers authorize distributors and provide them with access to product data will be much simpler, allowing for more intuitive workflows. Manufacturers will also have new processes for seeing and analyzing how different distributors use their data, measuring ROI and other analytics they’ve asked for.
Distributors will see improvements in simpler processes for creating and managing subsets of product data for their own purposes, such as in-store or web store special offerings or for internal product flow analysis. They will also find it easier to confirm data quality and completeness by manufacturer.
Both manufacturers and distributors will have a much more configurable interface allowing multiple users with multiple views of the data. Other improvements will include extensive search capabilities, guided help, and other benefits of being on a state-of-the-art system, Hashem said.
One of the priorities in converting to the new system will be to make it backward-compatible so manufacturers who want to continue submitting and managing the data the way they always have will be able to do so, Hashem said. But the hope is to be able to entice them with the new system’s greater functionality.
“We will be supporting both platforms for a period of time, putting the focus on making the transition as easy as possible,” Hashem said. “But if you use the new functions, life will be much easier. Updating the system is a lot easier if they investigate the new capabilities. It’s something you may not know about but might really, really love.”