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Industry Service Provider in Transition, Part II

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.

In Part I of this article series tED Magazine talked to IDEA’s interim leader Chris Curtis, and Vice President of Operations Mike Wentz, about the organization’s immediate executive search plans and short-term agenda. In this article we delve deeper into the transition and look at what the IDEA of the future may look like and how it’s going to get there.

Business As Usual
As it puts the final touches on the upcoming eBiz Forum scheduled for next month and compiles a list of “must haves” for a new executive leader, IDEA is also digging deeper into its existing standards process to identify the data fields and attributes that “make it clear on exactly what manufacturers need to input,” says Curtis. “We want to ensure that what manufacturers are inputting is what the customers/distributors need.” Achieving that goal does not need to wait on IDEA’s leadership change, says Curtis, who plans to advance that mission even while the executive search is going on.

As mentioned in Part I of this series, Curtis is also meeting with all current IDEA staff to find out what roles they serve in, how the business functions, areas where simplification or better efficiencies are in order, and where the opportunities currently lie. Additionally, Curtis is communicating with key stakeholders on IDEA’s current activities as well as its future plans. In the meantime, it’s business as usual at the organization, “which knows how to run itself on a day-to-day basis,” according to Curtis. “I’m much more focused on helping to find where the organization needs to go, rather than where it is.”

In terms of the executive search, Curtis says he’s more driven by quality than by achieving a certain scheduled mandate. “I have direction from the board to do this right; not on a specific date,” he says, when asked about an estimated search/hiring time frame.

New Opportunities Ahead
Looking ahead, Curtis sees opportunity for IDEA to provide additional services and support tools to the distributor community – with an eye on helping those users enable their e-commerce capabilities. “That, I think, can be an added opportunity of revenue for IDEA, and good for the [distributors’] customer base,” says Curtis.

New Quality Procedures
Referring to quality as an “ongoing process,” Wentz says IDEA is currently initiating a number of new quality procedures. “The goal line is never static on quality; it’s constantly moving,” says Wentz, “so it’s an ongoing mission for us. We anticipate the demands from distributors are going to increase over the coming years so we have to be prepared for that.”

According to Curtis, IDEA recently completed a baseline survey to examine how far it has come in the area of standards and just how far it has to go. He says the survey will serve as a tool for helping the organization maintain what he sees as a “highly disciplined and rigorous process around quality on the [data] input side,” while also aiding it in understanding what future moves need to be made.

“While we have to accept the dynamic nature of how our standard will move,” he says, “that cannot be an excuse not to maintain the same high level of expectation and quality.”

The Road Ahead
As an entity that serves both the manufacturer base and the distributor community, IDEA also strives to maintain a balance between the two. “We need to constantly ensure that the communities we serve are satisfied,” says Wentz, “and that we’re also forward thinking and anticipating future demands that people may not even be aware of yet.”

Ten years ago, for example, IDEA and its constituents weren’t even discussing website URLs, says Curtis. “We were just talking about product numbers, basic specs, and those kinds of things. Now you can’t have a conversation without digital images and, who knows? Maybe in the future, 3-D drawings will be one of the standard expectations.”

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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