Despite legitimate reasons to cut back on travel expenses during this sluggish recovery, more than 140 distributors, manufacturers and software executives attended this year's IDEA E-Biz Forum, held Sept. 20-22 in Dallas.

Now in his third year as IDEA's president and CEO, Bob Gaylord is clearly comfortable with IDEA's direction and opportunities for the future. “This is not your 20th-century IDEA,” he said in his opening remarks. “It's not about the past.” Gaylord said

As IDEA sets its strategic goals for 2012-2015 the association's core mission continues to be driving cost out of the supply chain and being a data synchronization and e-commerce service provider. This is a tough task in the constantly evolving e-business environment, but throughout its 12-year history IDEA has always had to factor in new technology, new players and new theories of data management into its service equation. Two of its core service offerings — the Industry Data Exchange (IDX) EDI value-added network and Industry Data Warehouse (IDW) — have had varying degrees of acceptance in the market. IDX is widely recognized throughout the electrical industry as a cost-effective means of eliminating transaction errors, and the transaction data in the IDW has proven to be very accurate.

But it's been a big challenge to get more manufacturers to provide the IDW with the attributed data that distributors need to populate their online catalogs with spec sheets, images, line drawings and other data that can help them more effectively market their products.

Benoit Lheureuix, research V.P., Gartner, gave a fascinating overview on the use of EDI and other e-commerce tools in industries outside the electrical market and said some challenges IDEA has experienced in getting manufacturers to adopt new e-business solutions are common in other verticals throughout the business-to-business (B2B) community. Lheureuix, who described himself as a “B2B plumber that companies invite in to fix their B2B problems,” said companies throughout the business world spend an estimated $3 billion annually on EDI and other B2B solutions, and that B2B trading communities such as IDEA do a combined total of 1 billion transactions annually. He told the audience to expect more companies to adopt new B2B solutions such as integration as a service (IAAS), which provides secure reliable transport of data, and managed file transfer (MFT) software, which moves multi-gigabyte files through a network.

Another speaker who gave Forum attendees an intriguing glimpse into the future was Deke Smith, executive director, buildingSMART, National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), Washington, D.C. Smith is an expert on building information modeling (BIM) — computer-based 3-D design systems where architects build buildings electronically before they build them physically. Smith urged attendees to study BIM technology because architects need to have accurate electronic product specification data to incorporate into their designs.

Another highlight of this year's E-Biz Forum was the presentation of the Richard Buzun Award for Leadership and Innovation in eCommerce, named for the late Richard Buzun, the second IDEA chairman and a former president and CEO of Siemens Energy & Automation. This year's winners were Erico Inc., Solon, Ohio, and Crescent Electric Supply Co. Inc., East Dubuque, Ill. The next E-Biz Forum will be held in St. Louis on Sept. 26-28, 2011.