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Hardware Technology Forum focuses on EDI, data synch

Memphis, Tenn. While data synchronization has become the new reality for many manufacturers, this year’s Hardlines Technology Forum (HTF) did not overlook Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), the backbone of ordering and billing between retailers and their suppliers. Sessions looked at EDI’s increased use in transportation, the roles played by various EDI documents, and in today’s final presentation, the changing nature of the EDI coordinator’s job.

EDI also surfaced during the Retail Panel, a conference highlight where retailers and distributors discuss their upcoming IT initiatives. There were no major announcements this year, however, as the buyers in the home channel seem to have their hands full with projects they’ve already started.

Approximately 225 people attended the four-day conference, held April 21 to 24 at the Peabody Hotel. Technology vendors peddled everything from EDI outsourcing to data encryption to help with U.S. Customs requirements.

During the two-hour Retail Panel, representatives from Orgill, Lowe’s, Do it Best and True Value answered pre-submitted questions from the audience. Some of the inquiries sounded like repeats from the previous day’s “Seller’s Forum,” where vendors complained about fines and “scorecards” that give them little feedback on what they’re doing wrong.

Brett Hammers, vp-marketing for Orgill, said his organization prefers to works one-on-one with problem vendors. “We don’t just put information out there,” he said. “It’s in our best interest to handle [feedback] strategically rather than globally.”

Greg Linder, director of supply chain operations for True Value, spoke of a visible supply chain solution the co-op is rolling out, through Sterling Commerce, that will result in more consistent lead times for incoming products. True Value is not planning to implement data synchronization anytime soon, he said, adding: “You can synch all the data in the world, but it’s [data] accuracy that keeps us up at night.”

Lowe’s, on the other hand, implemented data synchronization with most of its vendors and has moved on to a marketing data pool initiative. Last year the North Carolina retailer began collecting images and data for Lowes.com and in-store use through Big Hammer, a division of EdgeNet. The retailer is doing the project in phases, with the three categories, lumber, rough electrical and rough plumbing, set to be completed by the end of 2008.

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