In this article Margaret Fitzsimons of the EDA comments on some of the findings from the Construction Media Index 2022 on the provision of technical information by manufacturers and distributors to electricians.

In a well-regulated sector where technical products are being marketed and sold to highly qualified trades people, accurate and reliable product data is key.

This year’s Construction Media Index confirms that specifiers and purchasers rely on manufacturers for their technical information, principally using their websites but also contacting them by email and phone for the information they need. It is right that the manufacturer is the primary source of product information and there are now increasing demands on them forcing them to take a long hard look at how they manage this increasingly important asset. Customers need more data more quickly and in standardised formats and they need to know that it is up to date and accurate. At long last, product data, a long-time Cinderella topic, is now a hot boardroom agenda item.

So what are manufacturers in the electrotechnical sector doing to improve access to technical information?

They are creating new roles in their businesses – upskilling their staff in data management or hiring new data scientist/managers.

They are investing in Product Information Management Systems (PIM systems) to centralise and manage their product data traditionally scattered in multiple departments.

They are now using a standard classification system, ETIM, to ensure that the product data within their PIM system is input and held in the same formats as other manufacturers and wholesalers in the sector to remove inefficiency and improve interoperability.

They are adopting the GTIN code (better known as the EAN or Bar code) as the standard to identify individual products so that they can be identified with ease along all steps of the supply chain.

They are pooling their standardised data in a central industry-owned datapool, called EDATA, to enable the supply chain to have one source of reliable technical data.

The knock on effects of this for the specifier and contractor will be very beneficial.  At last they will be able to compare the technical characteristics of products with relative ease. Their product searches will be easier as they will be able to filter using key technical characteristics. Errors in ordering will be reduced and installed products will be easier to identify in the future.

These initiatives, all related to the digitalisation of the sector, are in their early stages but making excellent progress and being driven by the Electrical Distributors’ Association (EDA).

As the representative of the Electrical Wholesale Sector it is very reassuring to see that the trade counter is the second most important source of technical information. We constantly emphasise the importance of well-trained and knowledgeable trade counter staff. They set the traditional wholesaler apart from a faceless website. EDA members have access to accredited product knowledge training to upskill their staff on the thousands of technical products sold over the counter. This training is currently being digitalised to take it to a wider audience.

It will take some time and effort for these big initiatives to bear fruit, but the electrical sector can look forward to big improvements in availability of technical information.

Margaret Fitzsimons, Chief Executive
Electrical Distributors Association