Distributor puts product data syndication in its place with Thomas

BDI corralled its extensive catalog of manufacturing partner product data into one database using Thomas Enterprise Solutions

Bearing Distributors Inc. (BDI), a Cleveland-based industrial distributor of bearings for the international manufacturing industry, was dealing with an information overflow. With well over 100 partner manufacturers and suppliers, all with dozens of product catalogs, BDI had to find a more efficient way to connect its customers with the product data needed to make smart buying choices. The company's solution? Move all the data to one easily accessible online repository.

To achieve this level of product data syndication, BDI adopted the Navigator Platform technology from Thomas Enterprise Solutions.

With partner data such as 2-D and 3-D CAD drawings all in a single database, BDI is able to simplify its customer end-user experience, as well as make it easier to match the right materials supplier with the right customer.

BDI has been using Thomas Enterprise Solutions' Navigator Platform for more than two years. During that time, most of the company's manufacturing partners have digitized their product catalogs using Thomas, putting this data into an online repository that BDI can then access, explained William Shepard, vice president of the Midwest region and marketing at BDI.

"Now we have a single link from our website that pulls up and displays all that technical data," Shepard explained. "To the user, it looks like they're pulling it right from our website, but they're actually pulling it from Thomas."

The decision to adopt Thomas into the business was an easy one for Shepard's team, as no one else was offering that sort of manufacturing supplier product database at the time. "They had partners with some of our key manufacturing partners, and they had the data, so it was a simple decision with us to partner with [Thomas] and present that data to our users," he said.

Product data on the move

When the first of BDI's partners began putting their data into Thomas, the process took about 90 days, according to Shepard. After that initial hurdle, BDI was able to work with its other partners to cut the product data syndication timeline down to a couple weeks.

BDI is still adding partners to the Thomas system, with Shepard leading the charge.

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"We're lobbying on Thomas' behalf with some of our key partners, saying, 'You guys are trying to do this [product data syndication] on your own and you're not able to do it that fast. Here's someone that will actually get it done,'" he said.

Once BDI convinces a partner to upload its product information to the database, the partner is assigned an account manager from Thomas. From there, the complexity of the project plan depends on a few factors -- the number of products and SKUs, as well as how detailed the information needs to be, Shepard explained. The partner is then responsible for producing the data for Thomas, which then works on syndicating it. Meanwhile, BDI sets up its system to accept the new partner's flow of data.

Exploring product data syndication's benefits

Since deciding to use Thomas for product data syndication, BDI has found that it's more in touch with its manufacturing partners and customers than ever before. "The benefit to us as a distributor is that we can take and present a product on our website, with real-time updated content from the manufacturer," Shepard said. In the past, a change in a manufacturer's product would result in BDI having to scramble to update the product data on its site, often six months to year after the product changed.

BDI has received positive feedback from the manufacturing partners that have adopted Thomas, according to Shepard. "They love it, because they can produce [their product information] just one time and distribute it to many," he said. "Before, they had to comply with all different types of formats to do that. When they once only had time to produce info for 1,000 products, now they can easily do 10,000 and only publish it once. It's a much larger scale of what they can put out there for the market to see."

Looking ahead, Shepard hopes to see more mobile computing possibilities from Thomas, to make BDI's network of product information accessible on the go. Social media is also something that the company hopes to add to its product data syndication, specifically a portal that lets customers access training multimedia, pose questions about the products they're using or post material that might be helpful to other users.

"For a given product that a maintenance manager pulls up in their plant, it would be great to have the ability to watch a YouTube video explaining how to install it, or maybe a troubleshooting guide," said Shepard. "That could be useful for an end user."

Follow SearchManufacturingERP on Twitter @ManufacturingTT.

This was first published in November 2013

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