Making Sense of the Tools of the Trade

“Free, perfect, and now.” Former Marshall Industries CEO Rob Rodin sums up what distribution customers want in this four-word phase. Meeting those demands is a little more complicated: Rodin wrote a 250-page book on the topic, Free, Perfect, and Now (Simon and Schuster, 1999), and the subject is far from closed.

Even during the boom times of 1999, buyers and engineers were under the gun to design and procure the best-performing product for the best possible price. In the decade since that boom/bust cycle, the emergence of systems and tools that sort though volumes of component data, narrow down choices, and assist in component selection/procurement have been targeted toward making these processes easier and more precise.

That's not always the result. The amount of data attached to any given component is growing faster than tools' ability to keep pace. So has the industry's choice of systems and tools. The selection ranges from high-end ERP/MRP systems to free online tools. All are targeted at making the designer's or the buyer's job easier. Sorting through the array of available tools is difficult.

Distribution companies are among the channel players that are offering tools for component selection, design assistance, component comparison, bill of material (BOM) downloading, BOM scrubbing, inventory checks, and procurement. As an editor, my first question to companies that provide free tools is, “What's in it for you?” The answer is that free assistance, whether it be in the form of purchasing tools or design help, can lead to additional business for the distributor.

That said, there's a difference between an agnostic tool — one that allows users to design and buy from their own approved vendor list — and a system that directs you to the distributor's lineup card. In most cases, consolidating activity within a distributor's product offering will gain the most efficiencies, but is not a requirement for use of the tool. For users, it's all about leverage — where and when consolidation makes sense, and where and when it doesn't.

Today at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, EBN readers will get a chance to discuss procurement tools with an expert. Dianne Kibbey, head of global community and e-procurement for catalogue distrbutor Newark, will conduct a Live Chat with the editors and readers of EBN. In the interest of full disclosure, Newark offers a free online procurement tool. iBuy has been around about a year, has 3,500 active accounts, and provides continual feedback about what is good about the system and what needs improvement. That information helps Newark meet its customers' needs and can help customers cull through a varied array of tools.

The chat's free — and we are always aiming for perfect. Join us at Reduce Procurement Costs Without Spending a Cent.

6 comments on “Making Sense of the Tools of the Trade

  1. jbond
    April 26, 2011

    It seems like we are running into the same issues from the late 80's and early 90's when software was out pacing hardware. It is unfortunate for some of the businesses who can't keep up with the latest trends, yet the manufacturers have to be at the fore front of having the latest greatest tool to help companies help their customers. I am curious to see what kind of info comes up from this afternoons chat. Hopefully I will have a chance to break free and check some of it out.

  2. SunitaT
    April 26, 2011

    “The amount of data attached to any given component is growing faster than tools' ability to keep pace”

    Does it mean a tool should have ability to sort through all the data attached to the given component or is it ok if the tool points to the crucial paramenters of the component and thus make the designer's or the buyer's job easier ?

  3. Barbara Jorgensen
    April 26, 2011

    It's the data associated with compliance–RoHS–and the origins of matierals–conflict minerals–that is the issue. Engineers and buyers are being asked to input that data so the OEM can show due diligence if a problem arises down the line. Either that data has to be input into a closed system, or an open system may be able to search and download that automatically. So it is not so much the tools themselves, but the type of data enginers and buyers are being asked to keep track of that is outpacing the systems

  4. Ms. Daisy
    April 26, 2011


    I am wondering if the manufacturers of these tools simply input the tool specifications and market information into an open system for all who buy the equipments or commodities, would this help the supply chain engineers to have easy access to this information during acquisition of goods and services?

  5. mario8a
    April 28, 2011


    Product demand is getting more complex every day and this requires that designers move faster on their R&D, same thing for suppliers, managing all the information is critical.

    I had the opportunity to work on the first RoHS compliance implementation project in our company ( 176 p/n's – 800 e-mail w/follow up calls & going back and forward ) Today our company manage All the inventory RoHS complaince / WEEE compliance / Prop 65 / Packaging directive  and many others….

    Thanks to AGILE that makes our life easier.


  6. Taimoor Zubar
    April 29, 2011

    Besides the strength and power of the tool, what really matters is how easy it is to use and also how well the users are trained to use the options. A lot of tools are available out there which are very strong but they don't get popular simply because they are either difficult to use, or users have not been trained to use them.

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