MDM helps electronics distributors across the spectrum.


From catalogs to supply chains, electronics distributors in all business models benefit from high-quality master product data.

Electronics distributor Digi-Key recently announced they would stop putting out a print catalog, instead relying on their Web site to distribute their catalog in digital format. An article in  Multichannel Merchant magazine offers this explanation:

For one thing, Digi-Key’s portfolio of websites provides customers with the latest product as soon as it is introduced to the market. The websites also offer real-time pricing and inventory, current lead times, product specifications, current data and application notes, videos, reference designs and custom editorial content and more.

All these points make a strong case for using the Web, mobile apps, and other digital channels for product communication.  But EBN Magazine Editor Barbara Jorgensen offered a two-part follow-up to this story, called “What’s in a Name?” in which she asks, “Should Digi-Key continue to be referred to as a ‘catalogue’ distributor?” 

Beyond the literal aspect of the question, Jorgensen explores the larger issue:

The typical catalogue business model — which caters to design engineers — is low-volume, high-mix, premium-component-price orders. But increasingly it seems that some customers want to engage with their catalogue partners beyond just the engineering order into the production stage. Production orders move into the high-volume, low-mix, price-is-negotiable phase of a supply chain relationship.

In other words, a “catalog” is more than just a medium for communicating product information. It’s a reflection of a distributor’s business model.  Jorgensen suggests that as distributors work their way deeper into their customers’ supply chains, the less the term “catalog” accurately reflects their business model as a strategic partner-supplier.

Rainbow on wall (Photo credit: Job Derksen)

This implies a spectrum along which electrical distributors fall with their customers, from the “catalog” end (wide but not necessarily deep selection) to the production end (deep and detailed, but not necessarily wide). Some distributors may offer a variety of channels or divisions to enable them to serve customers all along that spectrum. 

Sound Product Information Is Needed Across the Spectrum

And, across that spectrum, the need for sound product information in a variety of channels is clear.  Part 2 of Jorgensen’s piece profiles Premier Farnell, detailing that distributor’s efforts to meet their customers wherever they are.  Kevin Yapp, the company’s global head of marketing, outlines the various ways in which social and real-time media are re-shaping customer commucations.  He concludes that

…we are evolving a ‘blended channel’ to best meet their individual needs — and that includes a paper catalogue, picking up a phone and talking to a salesperson, and online research and conversation. We are taking all those channels and creating a unique mix.

Again, the product data these distributors offer in all their channels needs to be complete, current, and correct no matter where they fall on the spectrum of supplier-customer relationships. 

At the catalog end of the spectrum, distributors that strive to offer the widest selection must acquire product data from a large number — perhaps thousands — of suppliers.  The classic challenges of getting accurate supplier data are increased several orders of magnitude for these distributors. 

Making sure this data is accurate and up-to-date is essential, especially when publishing the data to various print, Web, and mobile marketing media. For catalog distributors, a product master data management (MDM) or product information management (PIM) platform ensures that data from a variety of sources is centrally integrated and managed for publication to a variety of media and channels. 

At the other end of the spectrum, distributors that position themselves as strategic partners will end up feeding their product data deep into their customers’ supply chains.  Unlike the data used in catalogs or e-commerce Web site, which largely stays within the domain of the distributor, data used in supply chains can end up in a variety of customer systems and applications – not to mention the systems of their customers’ customers and partners. 

Without minimizing the importance of sound catalog content, product data that gets built into the DNA of a customer’s operations must be precise or it risks contaminating the entire supply chain ecosystem.  A master data management (MDM) platform can help avoid these risks.  Evan Levy with Baseline Consulting ticks off many of the benefits that MDM offers this environment:

The…applications that deal with inventory details can leverage the MDM hub as a clearing house of detailed changes…No more developers having to understand the details of hundreds of product categories and subcategories. No more one-off discussions between stores and suppliers. No more intensive manual work to change suppliers or substitute merchandise. No more updating POS systems with custom code. With MDM it’s all transparent to the applications — and to the people who use them.

From “traditional” catalogers to production partners, product MDM can help electrical distributors assure data quality and consistency across the entire spectrum of business models, and across all channels and applications that consume their product data.

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