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NAED Members React to Changes at IDEA

By Bridget McCrea

What NAED’s distributor members really think about the changes in store at IDEA for 2015

In August, 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 a 2-part series entitled Industry Service Provider in Transition (Part One, Part Two) tED Magazine explored this new development and found out that while IDEA searches for a new leader, its Board Member Chris Curtis, former CEO of Schneider Electric’s North American operations and current chairman of the NEMA board of governors, is managing the organization’s day-to-day operations and chairing the search process for a new executive officer.

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.”

In speaking with a handful of NAED’s distributor members, the changing tides at IDEA are being viewed in a positive light. Involved with IDEA since its inception 20+ years ago, Rocky Kuchenmeister, general manager at K/E Electric Supply Co., in Mt. Clemens, Mich., says his firm was one of the initiative’s early investors. Up until this point, Kuchenmeister feels that IDEA has not been able to fulfill its promise of becoming the official technology service provider and eBusiness standards body of the electrical industry.

Garbage In/Garbage Out
In assessing the challenges that IDEA is grappling with right now, Kuchenmeister traces the problem back to the electrical manufacturers who don’t do a good enough job of providing accurate, up-to-date data to outside sources (both IDEA and his company included). “We just recently developed a report card on our own suppliers and found that in many cases they’re not providing enough data on their products,” he explains, noting that good, clean data is the very cornerstone of any long-term, industry-wide initiative like IDEA.

“The manufacturers are not invested enough into sending that data to IDEA, and we’re desperately in need of it,” Kuchenmeister says. “If we’re going to go forward with any type of e-commerce solution, or with any type of mobile website or apps, it’s vital for us to have that data.”

Kuchenmeister and his team often explain this very fact to their own suppliers, all the while emphasizing the fact that all of the apps and fancy websites in the world can’t make up for a dearth of centralized, user-friendly data. “The problem is that I can’t teach every single one of my employees how to use every manufacturer’s website; it’s completely overwhelming,” says Kuchenmeister. “I might be able to teach a buyer to use those sites for 25 to 30 percent of our lines, but I can’t teach a counter or outside sales rep across the hundreds of lines that we distribute.”

To overcome that obstacle, Kuchenmeister says his distributorship has set up a mobile website that’s populated by IDEA-generated data. Using their mobile devices or laptops, employees can access the centralized repository for product information and specifications. The problem is that many times the data itself is coming not from the manufacturers themselves, but actually from Trade Service, a third-party provider of data. “When the information has come from Trade Service, we’ve found inconsistencies with it,” says Kuchenmeister, who notes that Trade Service has thrived as IDEA has languished. “They’re still in business and doing very well because IDEA hasn’t done its job, even after all of the money we’ve invested in it.”

Looking to the future, Kuchenmeister envisions a time when both manufacturers and distributors alike view initiatives like IDEA as valuable aspects of the electrical industry. “At this point, it’s really on the manufacturers to see this [through], and to use it as a valuable tool for providing data to their distribution networks.”

Voicing Their Concerns
When asked what he thought about the current and future changes in store for IDEA,
Billy Wresch, vice president at Mid-Island Electrical Supply (acquired by Turtle & Hughes Inc., in 2013) in Commack, N.Y., says the leadership transition itself will be largely non-impactful.

“The main issue IDEA has is compelling all the subscribing manufacturers to fill in as many data fields as possible and to be consistent; that’s what we as distributors rely on,” Wresch says, echoing Kuchenmeister’s comments. “We need more enhanced content, pictures, and so forth to be able to improve our ecommerce presence.”

An NAED member in California who preferred to remain anonymous was more vocal about the leadership change, noting that he thinks, “we should have fired Gaylord six years ago. We should never have hired a bureaucrat.”

Jumping On Board
At Dickman Supply in Sidney, Oh., Vice President Doug Borchers was prepping for a meeting with IDEA during the coming week. Ultimately, he says NAED distributor members like Dickman Supply want to support IDEA’s mission, but are held back from doing so by the abundance of inaccurate data plaguing the system. Pointing to cross-referenced data as one example, Borchers says distributors want to be able to cross-reference items from Brand X, look up in-stock statuses, and “quick click” to competing brands as desired.

“IDEA historically has refused to give us that data, and in many cases, for that reason alone, we’ve not used IDEA,” says Borchers. That reluctance has led to much infighting over IDEA’s role and the support manufacturers must provide in order to make the platform useful and relevant. “Suppliers need to know that their customers are distributors who want and need that data,” says Borchers, “yet they still don’t want to give that data up.”

Borchers says that while he continues to support IDEA and its role in electrical distribution, it may take time for NAED distributor members to warm back up to it. “Not only were we not getting the data we needed, but what we did receive wasn’t 100 percent accurate,” says Borchers. “The day that IDEA gets it data [strategy] together, the day it allows to cross-reference, we’ll be jumping on board.”

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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