I had to double-check my math, but surprisingly it was almost two decades ago (1999) that the first workgroups and industry forums convened to discuss better ways to express and exchange automotive product information. No one could have known at the time how the scope of the initiative would grow to include packaging and logistics data, standardized brand identification, product attributes, digital assets, and so much more. Today, it is hard to find a distributor, retailer or supplier who doesn’t make use of the Product Information Exchange Standard (PIES).
However, there was a significant segment of the aftermarket that could not make full use of PIES for a variety of reasons. The heavy-duty truck parts business is different from the light- and medium-duty aftermarket in real and important ways. The most obvious is that their vehicles do not lend themselves to the common Year / Make / Model / Engine parts look-up logic. Class 7 and 8 vehicles are typically built to the specification of the fleet or operator leading to an almost infinite variety of systems and component combinations. Another major difference is the role of heavy duty OE vehicle manufacturers in the supply chain. Information about the bill of materials that go into a vehicle is held closely by the vehicle builder. This results in an industry segment that is much more reliant on cross references and parts matching by attributes than their light duty counterparts.
Over the years, representatives of the heavy-duty segment would explain that PIES just didn’t work for their business and critical HD content and reference data was missing. Regardless of the reasons for lagging adoption in the heavy-duty segment, that appears to be changing and 2018 is a transformative year. Work is underway to extend the automotive data standard to fully support the requirements of heavy duty parts manufacturers and distributors.
Changing the behavior and expectations of an entire industry takes leadership. And it has been exciting to see the leadership of the major HD groups and their manufacturer partners become aligned around the idea of improved business processes and increased sales through the adoption of data standards. Under the leadership of the Heavy Duty community of the Auto Care Association (www.hdda.org) key industry stakeholders have committed to a project that builds upon the prior work done on the automotive side to develop needed HD standards.
The project is overseen by an advisory committee of senior executives from SKF, VIPAR HD, and Eaton. Balanced industry input is assured through a cross-industry committee with representatives from Pride, Federal Mogul, Gates and the American Trucking Associations. Finally, Pricedex Software was brought on to develop and execute the project plan. In short, the organization, resources and governance required to successfully complete a project of this scale has been assembled and put into motion.
At Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week earlier this year, a panel comprised of Terry O’Reilly from Pricedex, David Durand from Great Dane Trailers, Don McEntee from SKF and Bill Burns from HDA Truck Pride reported on the status of the project and the benefits to industry participants. Significant attention was devoted to clarifying what was meant by “Heavy Duty Product Information Standards” – and what was not. To those who were not previously familiar with the objectives and benefits of ACES and PIES in the light duty aftermarket, “industry standards” may have sounded threatening and a bit Orwellian, but Don put those concerns to rest. He that data standards were nothing more than a single, agreed-upon method and format for getting the information about his products to his customers. That means much less effort is needed to reformat and manipulate common product information, and more resources can be devoted to making use of the data to sell more products.
The level of industry participation is impressive with over 120 individuals from 50 manufacturers participating in one workgroup or another. A major portion of the project deals with mapping the VMRS reference tables of the Technology & Maintenance Council to the brands reference table and the parts classification tables of the PIES standard. An effort of that magnitude requires a lot of domain expertise. And in talking with the leaders of this project that seems to be the one thing they want more of. “Blue chip firms are signed-up and fully supportive,” explained Sheila Andrews, director of heavy duty programs for the Auto Care Association, “but more volunteers are needed to get the work done.”
When I was involved in the development of the ACES and PIES standards, we used to say, “You can’t complain if you didn’t participate.” Now is the time for members of the parts supply chain to participate in developing the single best method to format and exchange the product information needed to sell more parts. Like the brake drum for a Mack truck, this is a big lift, but with enough participation the project will get done on time.
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