by Sonia Coleman, IDEA
Manufacturers have long been using technology to automate their administrative functions with distributors. Yet, in many ways, manufacturer’s representatives and agents have been missing out on the digital transformation party.
Working with IDEA Exchange (IDEA), the electrical industry’s digital integration platform, one innovative manufacturer pioneered a solution using the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) Standard. EDI is a secure, proven, and well-established information transfer system that helps industry manufacturers automate supply chain processes for their manufacturers’ agents.
Challenges with the Rep Service Model
The ordering process between agents and manufacturers is essential as it impacts a manufacturer’s ability to fulfill orders and bill distributor customers. However, for many agents, the process of submitting orders, estimates, and other critical tasks is still manual.
According Joe Tumlin, president of the commercial division at Coresential, about 70 percent of orders processed are via email and require manual entry into our system. Some reps already use EDI with their manufacturers, but often do not realize when their distributor customers submit EDI orders directly to the manufacturer.
The process has been ripe for an upgrade.
Solving a Long-Standing Industry Problem
Enter Siemens’ Talon division.
Although the company had automated using EDI with its agents long ago, the Siemens team experienced hundreds of costly EDI order errors each month from many of their manufacturer’s representatives.
Siemens reached out to IDEA, their EDI solution provider and Value-Added Network (VAN), to find a solution.
Automating Process Saves Hundreds of Staff Hours Each Month
IDEA Exchange’s team worked with Siemens and the rep software, TradeTech’s TTS Platform, to map and translate flat files to digital EDI messages. As a result of the IDEA rep EDI upgrade, Siemens reports that the company is now saving several hundred staff hours each month. A business-critical manual process is now automated.
“It’s a tremendous improvement from where we were before,” said Ann Sadlowski, senior developer at Siemens. “Since IDEA took over the EDI translation, the process is automated, machine-to-machine without the need to manually resolve data-entry errors and duplicate orders.”
Siemens’ relationship with its manufacturer representatives is also improved. “The previous process resulted in a lot of frustration from both sides. Now we can all trust the data and the entire order cycle. It’s improved our relationship with our reps,” said Sadlowski.
A better relationship between manufacturers and their agents results in better communication, sales support, and faster order fulfillment. Besides, the Siemens IT team can now focus on mission-critical projects and trust that sales orders from manufacturer representatives are being processed and fulfilled correctly.
Increased Sales, Improved Relationship with Agents
This initiative also enabled IDEA to develop an affordable, industry-wide digital manufacturer rep solution for other manufacturers. GE Current, a Daintree company, decided to automate certain transactions with its reps by partnering with IDEA Exchange.
According to James Rossiter, EDI solutions analyst at Current, the newly implemented IDEA Exchange solution has enabled the company to provide an automated approach to its QuickStock Program, facilitating more automated inventory management processes with its partners. “We’ve been very pleased with the transition to IDEA Exchange with our agents,” said Rossiter. “We’ve seen our sales grow significantly, and we are serving our customers better.”
Commercial benefits for GE Current include:
- Additional inventory in major markets
- Addition of lighting fixtures to inventory, not just light-emitting diode (LED) lamps and made-to-order (MTO) fixtures
- Same-day order processing with 24–48-hour delivery
- Opportunity to better serve existing customers and provide products and services to new customers
- Local inventory to suit contractor needs and flexibility on fast-moving projects
- The implementation of QuickStock increased sales significantly and created additional warehouse space
Improved Customer Service
Electri-Flex is another manufacturer that understands the value of digital transformation. The company recently automated using IDEA Exchange with its reps, including those using the TTS platform and other rep software packages.
According to Dan Stephenson, IT manager at Electri-Flex, implementing a digital solution with their reps has made the process faster and less redundant. “Having our reps transmit orders they have shipped to us via EDI is so much more efficient and is prone to few mistakes,” said Stephenson. “From an efficiency standpoint, there is much less turnaround time for processing the order. Once the rep ships the order and transmits the file, it is in our system within minutes, ready for review and processing. Before this, the order would have to be emailed, received, printed, entered, reviewed, and processed. IDEA Exchange eliminates the redundant parts of the process.”
Although many consider digital integration (EDI) to be a technology thing, it’s a way to improve customer service and offer a competitive advantage for Electri-Flex. “Our company is known for superior service,” said Brock Klein, national sales manager at Electri-Flex. “This EDI process enables us to improve our service. We’re able to have better real-time information on our local stock and error-free orders. This allows us to deliver on our fast and accurate initial fill rates consistently. The less time we spend processing orders, the more time we’re helping our customers get the answers they need. And we’re better as an organization.”
To find out more about IDEA’s affordable digital integration solution for manufacturer’s reps, contact Ilene Bromberg at (703) 562-4689 or idea4industry.com.
To read the full case study on how Siemens fixed what was causing thousands of errors, click here.