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Industry Service Provider in Transition, Part I

By Bridget McCrea

Last week, the organization that bills itself as “the official technology service provider and eBusiness standards body of the electrical industry,” announced that its president and CEO was stepping down to pursue other opportunities. Jointly owned by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED), Arlington, Va.-based Industry Data Exchange Association (IDEA) is a 14-year-old business-to-business technology service provider that Bob Gaylord has headed up for the last seven years.

Now IDEA is putting out its feelers for a new leader. In the interim, IDEA Board Member Chris Curtis, former CEO of Schneider Electric’s North American operations and current chairman of the NEMA board of governors, will manage the organization’s day-to-day operations and chair the search process for a new executive officer.

What Happened?
According to Curtis, Gaylord’s decision to step down from his current role at IDEA was personal in nature. “[Bob] wanted to do some other things that were of interest to him, so we certainly honored that request,” he says, noting that NAED and NEMA have worked together closely over the last year as “shareholders” to ensure the smoothest possible leadership transition. “Making sure everyone involved understands what’s going on at IDEA has become even more important than it’s ever been.”

Curtis points out that the current appetite for data, technology, and the related enablers is growing at a fairly rapid pace within the electrical industry. “Because of this, we felt it was really important that – regardless of any kind of leadership transition – IDEA not lose its momentum,” says Curtis. For its subscribers, IDEA sources, synchronizes, and distributes data management solutions such as the Industry Data Warehouse (IDW), which is managed based on a standard set of data fields.

With experience serving both on NEMA’s board of governors and IDEA’s board of directors, Curtis says the latter has made progress in advancing its core mission. “I see where we are today by virtue of the organizations working very hard to really understand their objectives and to collaborate with one another,” he says. “In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever seen this strong of a collaboration between the two shareholders, NAED and NEMA.”

Mike Wentz, IDEA’s vice president of operations, concurs, and says this heightened level of collaboration couldn’t have come at a better time based on distributors’ growing interest in putting up web storefronts and eBusiness websites. “The value of content is growing every single day,” says Wentz, “and distributors are getting much better about quantifying and qualifying what they need from manufacturers, and vendors have really responded to that.”

For example, Wentz says IDEA has seen a more than a 900 percent increase in some of the key data fields that distributors need for their websites. Some of the basic fields, for example, include product image, key product attributes, long descriptions, and specification sheets. “Those are just four of the elements we’ve been monitoring for the last two years,” says Curtis, “and where we’ve seen the big growth; they were considered high priority targets and the manufacturers have done a pretty good job of responding in those areas.”

“Manufacturers have stepped up,” Wentz adds, referring to the progress in the data field area, “but there’s a lot more to do.”

The Near-Term Plan
As IDEA kicks off its search for a new executive leader, Curtis is getting to know the people who currently work for the organization and digging deeper into their respective roles and responsibilities. “It’s all about the people and making sure we’re supporting our customers, manufacturers, and partners during this transition,” says Curtis, who is currently working with IDEA’s board to develop a list of organizational expectations and its desired leadership attributes and capabilities.

“Once that’s agreed to – which is not far [off] – we will conduct a search process that will hopefully produce a lot of qualified candidates,” says Curtis. “This is a fascinating, challenging, interesting area that’s going to draw a lot of talent.”

Concurrently, Curtis says IDEA is putting the final touches on the upcoming eBiz Forum, an event that will take place September 24-26 in Long Beach, Calif. “We haven’t skipped a beat on that event,” says Wentz. “Our agenda for the forum is intact and we’ll be full prepared for it.”

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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