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Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap

By Misty Byers, Editor, tED magazine

For decades electrical distributors have faced competition from big box sellers that are constantly upping their game to attract professional customers and online outlets looking to sway them with low prices. But electrical distributors have always offered a key differentiator: local value-added services—and the opportunities to attract, serve, and retain customers in this way are growing.

“Offering our existing and new value-added services is something that our customers continue to expect from our company, and we believe our services offer is a great opportunity for accelerated growth and customer stickiness,” noted Mark Werner, vice president, Foundational IT Systems at Dallas-based Rexel USA. “Today through customer feedback and our commercial offer we are developing more service opportunities with our customers that require greater system functionality and deliver a greater customer experience. As an example, customers are expecting software and system configuration support and services for our lighting and automation offers.”

Because of these kinds of products, distributors are finding themselves deeper than ever in the value-added services stream. “We are becoming much more service oriented,” said Werner. “As we add more value around not only the installation of a product, but also the technical support, training, and life cycle of our customers’ facilities, our business tools must continue to evolve to support our ability to properly propose our services, transact, and manage our customers’ requirements beyond the initial product sale.”

However, Werner explained, while the path to becoming solutions providers is clear, the ability to incorporate these services into customers’ invoices remains a challenge. “Our existing ERP [Eclipse] has the ability to handle work orders, but it’s lacking in certain areas of scheduling, business processes and maintaining the customer information,” he noted.

There is, in a word, a gap in ERP software.

“The business challenges associated with expanding our services offer have been a topic of interest at NAED meetings time and time again,” Werner explained. “Rexel was evaluating several service suite bolt-on solutions that would allow us to store and transact service-related orders. Our CEO, Jeff Baker, reached out to me and said, ‘There’s a group of NAED members (mostly, but not all Eclipse users) needing that functionality in the software.’”

In mid-2021, that group formed an NAED committee to address the ERP gap, which produced a white paper titled “Bridging the ERP Gap for Services in the Electrical Industry,” sent out a request for information, and is currently evaluating responses from software development vendors. A link to the White Paper can be found at www.naed.org/bridging-the-erp-gap.

According to the white paper, the focus of the project is “to provide distributors a mechanism for tracking related features, revenue, and associated costs of services offerings.”

Committee members (which include personnel from ConneXion, Kendall Group, Mayer, NAED, Rexel, Springfield Electric, Standard Electric, United Electric Supply, Werner Electric, and Wiseway Electric Supply), performed a high-level business requirements gathering process to determine the limitations of the existing technology provided by ERPs as related to service management.

In the white paper, the committee outlines possible avenues for bridging the gap: approaching Epicor Eclipse to build the functionality into its core products, engaging a third-party to develop the solution, or utilizing existing APIs to interface with existing software solutions.

”Eclipse originally expressed interest in working on this project and was also open to working with other vendors if they were unable to accomplish the goals alone,” explained Ian Reynolds, general counsel for NAED. “However, since the initial conversations, I’ve been disappointed in Eclipse’s engagement and pace.”

Reynolds added that while other vendors have expressed interest in developing a solution, many want to know the level of engagement they can expect from Eclipse. “We’ve been trying to get that answer from Eclipse, but if Eclipse continues to neglect this project, I expect another vendor will be selected to build a solution,” he said.

The committee is meeting on Dec. 15 to evaluate the responses to the request for information. Distributors interested in supporting the project are asked to email Reynolds at ireynolds@naed.org and include the ERP system in use and the number of licenses.

“This will help us show the level of need for such a solution and might also be used to expand the group that authored the white paper as they look toward selecting a vendor to build a solution,” said Reynolds.

 

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Discussion (1 comments)

    HOWARD W Coleman December 15, 2021 / 3:33 pm

    Excellent! Proactive effort required that recognizes value-added services and the need for additional visibility. Count me in….

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