Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How the “New B2B” Can Revolutionize Your Flooring Business

 This is post 3 of a three-post series on the status of B2B in the flooring industry. You can read Post 1 and 2 here:  Dancik asks,  "What's wrong with the B2B in the flooring industry?" and  New plans for B2B improvements will add value for the distributor and retailer.

Web services are coming to floor covering providing both solutions and opportunity for the industry.

Imagine a retailer that can access its supplier’s information as if that information was stored inside its own retail computer system. Imagine a supplier who no longer worries how its data is formatted - or how its brand information is represented by distributors and retailers. Imagine the entire floor covering channel answering consumer questions confidently and consistently because the consistency is built into the process. All this and more can become an everyday reality if the direction that was set at the 2010 annual flooring industry B2B meeting comes to fruition. 

What is the New B2B?
The new direction for B2B is something the techies call “web services.” Although web services can appear magical, the underlying technology is simple and pervasive. You use these automated web services every day on thousands of web sites, i-Pads, and smart phones when accessing information.
•    A web service provides the electronic answer to a question. For example, when you click on a button labeled “Product Information” at your computer, a program behind the scenes sends a message to another computer to supply information about the product; a web service program then returns the requested data, and you see it on your screen.
•    Currently, in all of the systems used within the flooring and home décor industries, the “Product Information” button will only retrieve data that was previously keyed or downloaded into your local computer. If you want current information from your supplier’s computer you need to go to their web site. The new B2B changes this scenario. Your program will call out to the supplier’s computer, which will run a web service and deliver the supplier’s information instantly to your local computer screen. The combination of the data in your local system plus the data in your supplier’s system will appear together.
•      Many small businesses who struggle daily with computer maintenance tasks will be able to get instant information without downloading and manipulating data.
The use of web services will not necessarily replace the current “EDI based” B2B, which transfers information in batches between customers and suppliers. Large businesses may still prefer to manage all that data.

What kind of operational savings comes with the New B2B?
The flooring industry has always supported independently owned retailers, but has struggled with lowering operational costs to service them. Web services will lower those operational costs more than any existing EDI or B2B programs, and the savings will be significant to all parties.  With web services available from manufacturers, distributors, and buying groups, we will see efficiencies in every aspect of our businesses. For example:
•     When retailers press the “inventory” button using their local software, they will see what’s in stock in their store, what’s available at the local distributor, and when new production is expected from the manufacturer.
•    The “claims” button will take them to the claim form that relates to each supplier.
•    By clicking on the product name or code, a retailer will see everything the supplier wants them to know, including, but not limited to; pricing, special offers, pattern matches, specifications, installation materials and methods, sample ordering, marketing information and visualization.
•    Buying groups will be able to offer web services that supply information about products and services that are unique to their members. That information can be combined with the information from the supplier in a single complete screen presentation.
When will we get the New B2B?
The good news is that the technology already exists. There are no programming innovations that need to be invented within our industry. However, there is a lot of work to be done:
•    The format of the web services was already agreed to at the 2010 floor covering B2B meeting.
•    The first web services to be created have been agreed to by the industry, and they include real-time inventory availability. All flooring industry suppliers and software companies have been asked to work on these initial web services in 2011.
•    Integration of web services into existing software systems is not a trivial task. At my company, Dancik International  http://www.dancik.com, we've spent several years retooling so that all of our flooring features can call and integrate with web services. It was well worth the considerable time and investment, because we have recently and successfully deployed this technology with some flooring suppliers.
•    Suppliers must adopt this technology. They must budget for the integration of web services now, so that they can compete with it later. The more web services suppliers offer, the more successful this initiative and their market penetration will be.
•    Retailers will need to upgrade their systems. However, if a retailer is working with one of the FCB2B-compliant software vendors, they can expect that such an upgrade will become available. There is a list a vendors that claim FCB2B compliance at http://www.fcb2b.org/partners.php?view=software
The New B2B is both a solution and a new opportunity for the entire floor covering industry.
Retailers will love the “New B2B” because it puts information at their fingertips without making them work hard to download, interpret, manipulate, and integrate it. Suppliers will love it, because they can control the content and offer as much of it as they like. Suppliers can compete on the quality of their web services, making their customers the big winners.

I urge you to get involved in B2B technology, and to join the floor covering B2B organization, FCB2B http://www.fcb2b.org/membership.php. The FCB2B is not an IT organization. It is a dedicated group of your peers that want to make the new B2B a reality and lower operating costs for you.

Your comments will be appreciated and responded to. Thank you for reading!   

Mitchell Dancik

Mitchell Dancik is president of Dancik International and a consultant for the Floor Covering Institute.

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