We have received two more worthy submissions on the topic of e-cataloguing, both in response to our May point-counterpoint. We believe they will help advance the understanding of what is needed to improve the technology.
LAYOUT AND UTILITY NEED TO IMPROVE
T$T Auto Parts, Maple Ridge, B.C.
As a wholesale counterman at a jobber store, I like the speed of the E-catalogue, but it definitely has its downfalls.
First, I find some of the listings over-worded thus making it necessary to refer to the manufacturer’s website or the old paper catalogues. Secondly, as Bill Hare stated, the manufacturers, publishers, and E-cat designers are all pointing the finger at each other stating that it is not their fault, that it is someone else’s fault, making it very difficult to get anything fixed or changed.
As countermen, we are told that the E-cat is the end-all-be-all. “Throw out all your paper catalogues!” they tell us just to have us all diving in the recycling bins for the old reliable paper references. I personally find that manufacturers’ web sites or CDs are much more accurate and reliable (and less confusing) than the beloved E-cat.
In closing, I would suggest to the designers of the electronic catalogues that they should look at the layout and design of their product from the view of the people using their product (jobbers and installers), and concentrate on what we need, and not “we can’t do that.”
MORE TO THE MIX THAN JUST DATA
manager, Catalogue Development
AMS Computer Group
I read with interest the comments on electronic cataloguing by Bill Hare and Marc Mayes in the May 2005 issue of Jobber News. Having done so, I feel compelled to add my two cents’ worth to the mix.
Both Bill and Marc are substantially correct in their assessment of the current situation and as any counterperson will be quick to tell you, the problems are many and ongoing, regardless of which catalogue they use.
The reasons for this can be boiled down to three things: attitude, tools and volume. There is also a fourth element that will severely impact on any and all involved in cataloguing from the producer to the user and everybody in between. Allow me to explain.
The aftermarket parts industry has been producing paper catalogues for right around one hundred years. Over the course of time they have refined that process to a fine art, with the result that it is a process manufacturers are very comfortable working with. In spite of this long history errors still get into print, and when that happens it is usually at least a year before a new catalogue is published–hopefully with the correction. Hence the scribbled notes on the pages of every jobber’s paper catalogues. In spite of these errors, and because of the long-term comfort level with paper catalogues, most manufacturers to this day produce paper catalogues first and then start working on their electronic data, which is an entirely different process that can take months to complete depending on the tools used to produce the data. This “paper first” attitude must disappear as a first step on the road to a perfect catalogue.
The need to produce accurate, timely electronic data has created a entirely new industry dedicated to providing software tools for mapping manufacturers’ data to AAIA and the many other standards currently in use. Like all tool manufacturers there are some that are better than others, but all seem to be able to find a place in the market where they can exist. The really good ones provide their customers with tools that allow manufacturers to map their data once to the AAIA standard and then specify whatever output they wish to create, from paper catalogues ready for the printer to electronic data in any standard required. At the other end of the spectrum are companies that throw huge pools of people at the problem and manually map and key the data, creating the illusion that there is a program.
Errors can and do occur at all levels of the tools spectrum, but tend to be more prevalent at the lower end, where human error has a greater opportunity to create havoc. So with this background, is it any surprise that errors still manage to happen? Like hand tools, these software tools will improve over time, but until that happens we work with what is available.
In order to understand the sheer magnitude of the problem for a manufacturer, consider the following numbers. A large manufacturer can have many tens of thousands of individual parts. The AAIA code at its highest level has in excess of 27,000 unique vehicle identifiers and there are in excess of 1,200 unique subcategories in the AAIA data table. Now try and figure out how many possible valid combinations there might be by mixing up all of those entries: 10,000 x 27,000 x 1,200 (not the right formula, but you get the idea). That assumes that every vehicle uses the same engine, so add in all the engine variations and do the calculation again. (Damn – my calculator just went up in smoke!)
Finally from an E-cat provider’s perspective, multiply all of that by 1,000 to take into account the number of manufacturers that an E-cat provider will be dealing with on an ongoing basis. As Bill [Hare] stated, “E-cat providers do not have the manpower to proofread every entry in the catalogue.” To a lesser degree, neither do the manufacturers, although they do try, since they know their data better than anyone else. Bottom line: the volume issue will only get worse over time, which simply underlines the need for better manufacturer software tools to deal with the problem.
The Fourth Element
So, with all of this going on, now throw a new improved standard into the mix. Called ACES, which is an acronym for AAIA Catalogue Enhanced Standard, this new standard was published and adopted early last year. Whereas the legacy AAIA standard had 14 fields, the new ACES standard has more than 40 fields that a manufacturer can code data into. Each of these fields has a valid table of entries that can be placed into the field, and not all fields need to be coded for every part. This means that for the next two to five years, manufacturers will once again be in a state of transition while they leave one standard that they were just barely coming to grips with for yet another “standard” that is vastly more complex in its structure, more expensive in its implementation, and more complicated to map correctly.
Given this entire scenario, is it really a surprise that manufacturers and E-cat providers depend on input from the counter staff when they find errors?
On the E-cat providers’ side, it is incumbent on us to turn corrections around as quickly as possible once the data is received from the manufacturer. Recently we had an Autoecat.com catalogue user report a gap in coverage and an error in mapping in Fenco’s data. These errors were passed on to Fenco at 9:30 Pacific time and we had the corrected records back from Fenco within the hour. This quick response allowed us to publish the corrections in the jobber’s catalogue by close of business the day they were reported. What allowed this to happen first and foremost was Fenco’s ability to produce the corrections in a timely fashion. Without that capability on their part (better tools), we as an E-cat provider are powerless to assist the jobber. This is a relatively new capability on the manufacturer’s side, but it is one that we have seen on the horizon for a long time and one which is most welcomed by us as an E-cat provider and our customers using the catalogue.
In summary, whilst agreeing with both Bill’s and Marc’s comments, I see that ACES notwithstanding, the industry is getting better at providing clean and accurate data, and for our part here at AMS we are doing everything we can think of to assist the manufacturing community to provide cleaner, more complete data in a timely fashion and publish it within hours or days of receipt.
Summed up, in spite of everybody’s maximum efforts the nature of electronic cataloguing is such that it will always be a journey, never a destination, but as E-cat providers we can cut down the time between identifying a problem and publishing the fix. On the manufacturer’s side, Fenco’s example is the beginning, and over time there will be many more companies that can respond like Fenco does today. So stay tuned, things are getting better and will continue to do so.
If you wish to further this discussion, or bring forth other issues specific to the challenges being faced by the counterperson, please e-mail: email@example.com
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