Everyone involved in the electronic parts industry knows the pain of email. Sure, it’s the most common way to transmit pricing and availability data … but it’s also a royal pain.
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Inboxes quickly fill up with massive spreadsheet attachments. Information is lost in the clutter. Important messages are missed or forgotten. And highly sensitive data is left shockingly exposed.
Unfortunately, there have traditionally been few effective ways to avoid the email mess. EDI, in particular, is a good option … but it’s far too expensive for all but the largest contract manufacturers, distributors and suppliers to implement. That means plenty of communication between electronic part buyers and sellers still takes place over email and its poor cousins, phone and fax. That’s a major problem in the industry – and if it’s not solved, there are major consequences coming down the line.
In this guide, we’ll explain the top five problems with using email for sharing data on electronic part pricing and availability – and how innovative distributors, suppliers and CMs are solving them.
Email Problem #1
It’s a constant battle to move more emails out of your inbox than you receive in a day. It’s an assault that lasts all day and all night – and doesn’t stop for holidays or weekends. The result? You don’t spend enough time working with your customers … and when you do, you’re often worried less about customer service and more about simply crossing something off your to-do list.
Email Problem #2
Encrypted email attempts to offer a secure way of transferring data back and forth. Problem is, almost nobody in the electronic parts industry actually uses encrypted email. Encryption tools are cumbersome, and it’s common for senders and receivers to utilize incompatible platforms. Plus, once they’re decrypted, emails are still archived in an insecure fashion.
Any weak link in the chain renders the message vulnerable … and those weak links are everywhere. Even if you’re doing encryption right, what happens when your laptop is stolen, or you leave your smartphone at the movie theater?
When you’re using email to make dinner plans, that’s no big deal. But what about when you’re sending confidential customer-specific pricing? Or worse, when you’re corresponding about work for the government? In the latter case, email’s lack of security is doing more than compromising your data – depending on what information is being shared, you might actually be violating ITAR, EAR, COMSEC or FAR regulations.
Email Problem #3
It Offers No Revision Control
Simply put, email is a data integrity nightmare. Think about it: There’s no revision control for a file once it’s been attached and sent. As a result, multiple versions of pricing books exist at any one time – old and new both. There’s simply no way to enforce that your counterpart is seeing the data you need them to see, or that you’ve received the correct data. And confirming the data, of course, means sending yet more emails or making phone calls.
Email is an inherently manual process; it’s up to both the sender and receiver to handle the information correctly. A wrong attachment or mislabeled file can create havoc out of little more than a single keystroke or click of the mouse. What’s worse, if you’re sending a file and realize you made a mistake, there’s no way to guarantee the recipient will get or use a re-sent corrected version. By the time a second version of a file comes, they’re probably on to something else … like a different email. Your good data sits in their inbox, while old versions remain in use.
Email Problem #4
It’s not so much that email itself is slow; it’s perfectly ne for zipping off quick notes and correspondence. The issues are with how email is often used in the electronic parts industry – sharing pricing and availability data.
Let’s say that you’re a distributor on the receiving end of an Excel pricing book from a supplier. It’s a big spreadsheet, so it spends at least a few minutes in transmission. When it arrives (assuming it isn’t instantly buried in your inbox by the hundreds of other messages you get each day), you need to open it, save it, and place it onto either your local hard drive or a shared environment. All this takes time … but if you don’t immediately take care of the attachment, you’ll probably never be able to find it again.
Need to confirm information, or get an updated price? That spreadsheet hasn’t changed since you saved it, so you’re emailing someone at the supplier (and who knows when they’ll get back to you), picking up the phone or sending a fax. With emailed spreadsheets, you’re dealing with data that’s outdated essentially as soon as you get it, and gets longer in the tooth every day. In an industry where minutes matter, that’s a big problem.
Email Problem #5
Think about what wasted staff time costs your business. Or the expenses that always come with errors and confusion. Or the cost of recovering from a data breach. At the end of the day, email is not a cheap proposition. And that’s before you get to the costs of IT staffers to keep the system running (even as it’s stressed by thousands of massive attachments), data bills and legacy hardware.
Problem is, the most common replacements for email as a means of sharing pricing and availability data have long been EDI (short for electronic data interchange) and internal APIs. These certainly address speed, data integrity and security, but they both carry very large total costs of ownership. They’re expensive to plan for, expensive to set up, expensive to maintain; for the most part, they’re well out of the reach of small and mid-sized suppliers, distributors and CMs.
So where does that leave us? Are the only options email, with its myriad problems, or one of two wildly costly data sharing alternatives?
The last two years have seen the rise of highly configurable, secure real-time data exchange solutions driven by platform-agnostic API technology. The most notable of these, the Orbweaver Platform, is capable of securely accepting data in almost any format (EDI, XML, SOAP, JSON, XLS, CSV, etc.), normalizing it and delivering it automatically to a web portal, an ERP or MRP system or directly into Excel. That means the ow of data is constant, and the most up-to-date and accurate pricing and availability information is always available. Pricing jobs that once took 2-3 weeks of elapsed time can now be completed in five minutes, with data encrypted the entire way.
Think about the possibilities. Rather than accepting pricing books from suppliers via email, distributors can automatically ingest the data into their desired system, no matter the format in which it started. Likewise, distributors can share customer- specific pricing with their customers just as easily. There’s no need to change business practices or shift le formats; data can go into a leading API-based data exchange solution in any fashion, and come out any way it needs to. The result? More efficient data throughput, less wasted time, fewer errors, dramatically stricter security – and more sales.
Request a consultation with Orbweaver or call us at (888) 806-8807. Give us half an hour, and we’ll show you how you can respond to three times as many quotes by simply shifting from email to external API communication.