Monday, October 24, 2011

New vision for B2B flooring web technology

I am happy to report that after ten years in the B2B trenches, we are ready to conquer new ground with new web services that all flooring companies should support.
Mitchell Dancik
On September 21st 2011, the Flooring Industry B2B association ( held its annual meeting in Atlanta. The meeting combines a technical agenda with an industry-wide marketing agenda, and is a special place where competitors come together as friends in an effort to improve the flooring industry. In my previous blog post, B2B – an old term but a new opportunity for the flooring industry, I complained about trying to light a fire with an old wet match, which is what it is like when you try to excite the iPhone crowd with old terms like B2B. Well, regardless of the terminology, B2B is evolving to meet demand for real time applications.

The new vision for B2B flooring web technology.

The new vision, as imagined at last year’s fcB2B meeting and delivered at this year’s fcB2B meeting, is “web services.”   

•    You can think of them as “apps”
•    They are easy to program and easy to deploy
•    Last year’s prototype web service is now a reality called “stock check”
•    The specifications for how to a write a web service is available to all fcB2B members via the web site
•    Any supplier that supports the “stock check web service” can offer real-time inventory information to anyone they choose – retailers, designers, architects, distributors, and even consumers.

How is this different than the old vision?

The old vision was based on moving batches of data from one computer to another which is called Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). The terms B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumer) are old, but the concept is still viable. Web services satisfy today’s (and tomorrow’s) real-time B2B and B2C applications.

•    Implement web services anywhere – any computer or mobile devices
•    View data without needing to first import that data to your own computer
•    Implement in small modules (Stock check, price check, hold stock, etc) instead of large file transfers

Charting a new course.

The most impressive statement of new direction was delivered by Aaron Pirner and Pam Bowe,
(President and Executive Director of fcB2B, respectively) who have effectively and generously managed fcB2B for years. They have suggested that 2012 be the final year for augmenting the older EDI-style B2B programs and the first year in which we concentrate our efforts on implementing web services. The industry attendees expressed full support for this direction.

•    The EDI-style B2B programs include Product Catalogs, Purchase Orders, Order Acknowledgments, Advance Shipping Notices, and Invoices. Most of these programs are complete, with only minor revisions slated for 2012. The idea is for the industry to support these programs “as is” for as long as they are purposeful for the thousands of current users.

•    The EDI-style Product Catalog remains problematic, as it relies on huge batches of product information that varies greatly based on the type of product and the information available at each supplier. The industry has agreed to program a final set of improvements, primarily to deal with hard-surface products that require a Stock-keeping-unit (SKU) based scheme. Many flooring systems were developed for carpet and use a “style/color” scheme that (a) does not work for hard surface, and (b) is out of step with nearly all other consumer product cataloguing techniques.

•    Web services can replace all of the functions of the EDI-based programs, but there are no plans to discontinue support of the EDI-based programs. Each company can decide which path is best for them and their customers.

I fully support this exciting new course. The suppliers and the software companies have a lot of work to do to make this a reality. Some of the work has already been done. At my company, Dancik International, we have deployed a successful set of web services for a large manufacturer, and our customers are beta-testing a new version of our popular Décor 24 web portal, which has been completely rewritten as a series of web services.  Shaw Industries has announced that their “stock check” web service is available for software companies to access.

The flooring industry competes for a piece of every consumer’s disposable income. Web services will allow us to be competitive with other industries that are already embracing this consumer-friendly technology. 

I look forward to your comments. If you are not yet actively supporting the B2B movement, please visit the fcB2B web site and see what you can do to help.  Thank you.           

Mitchell Dancik

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

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