WAKE FOREST, NC This week we hear from Adrian Klingel, president of Ilumaware, based in Wake Forest, NC. Klingel began his career in the automotive aftermarket as an independent consultant, when he authored the first XML schema for aftermarket product information which became the basis for the AAIA’s PIES XML. Klingel has 12 years of professional technology experience, beginning as a database specialist on the Crime and Counterintelligence Terrorism Information System (CACTIS) for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations in Washington, DC. Join us as Klingel talks about the critical industry standards he helped create, and shares with us a bit about his company’s products and new industry partnerships.
For our readers not familiar with the company, can you give us a brief history of Illumaware?
Illumaware began with a vision to eliminate the price and technology barriers that face aftermarket manufacturers in the communication of product information. Industry standards have come a long way, but manufacturers are still faced with the task of gathering information from disparate sources and measuring that information against these standards. Illumaware brought to market the first software-as-a-service model for the collection and aggregation of this product information in a secure online environment.
It’s been said that Illumaware authored the first industry standard XML specification for catalog data, helping to launch AAIA’s PIES initiative. How did this specification evolve into an industry-wide standard?
It is one thing to establish the specific data requirements for an industry as diverse as the automotive aftermarket; helping everyone to communicate that data effectively, without incurring huge implementation costs is another thing entirely. AAIA had an excellent specification with PIES, but at the time it was still defined as what’s called a “flat file” specification. There is no standard means of ensuring data integrity within a flat file. During my career as an independent consultant, I wrote the XML version of PIES for a major aftermarket distributor. This XML schema was donated to AAIA, where it evolved into the current PIES XML. XML allows aftermarket businesses to exchange data with each other using a format that is well documented, has widely available tools (many are free), and ensures that product information adheres to the specifications established in AAIA PIES. PIES XML is really taking off now that aftermarket technology vendors have built systems supporting it, facilitating the easy aggregation of product information.
Illumaware recently announced a new alliance with Pricedex, another PIM software provider. How did this partnership come together and what will be the net result for the industry and your customers?
The Illumaware Evokat solution facilitates the rapid aggregation and management of product information. It also enables our clients to quickly and easily organize their products by vehicle application. This data is then communicated to our clients’ customers. That’s one part of the puzzle; we recognized that having a pipeline of high-quality aftermarket data flowing in to the Warehouse Distributor (WD) or Retailer is only the beginning. The WD must have systems in place to consume this information in order to leverage it for a competitive advantage. Pricedex provides great solutions that enables a WD to do exactly that. Through our alliance with Pricedex, we are able to offer a comprehensive solution to aftermarket WDs in both the traditional and SEMA spaces. WDs can now have a steady stream of quality data coming into their operations in manageable formats, and can also view pricing changes before they hit their internal systems. Add to that the ability to quickly respond to changes in supply costs and the ability to quickly publish product and price information both electronically and in print, and it adds up to a significant competitive advantage for the WD while at the same time reducing supply chain costs.
Tell us about your products how do they differ from other data management solutions?
Illumaware was first to market in the industry with a software-as-a-service model. Before Illumaware, the only option was to purchase software. While most of this software is of high quality, it can be expensive for the small-to-medium-sized manufacturer. Also, most of this software provides functionality in excess of what a small-to-medium-sized manufacturer needs. As a result of this mismatch, these manufacturers were paying for unneeded features, and dealing with unnecessary complexity, in order to obtain access to the basic features they required.
Illumaware Evokat is our online product information and catalog management solution. For an affordable monthly fee, manufacturers can manage all aspects of product information, as well as upload product images, MSDS sheets, technical bulletins and other kinds of content. The ACES portion allows them to point and click to map their parts to vehicles in the ACES databases from a single screen. ItemExpress is the portion of the technology that transforms the Evokat information into any format that is required by our customers. So manufacturers have a single secure place from which to manage all of their product information. And with a single click, the manufacturer can trim the required data down to only the fields in which their particular customers are interested.
We recognize that our clients have businesses to run, and don’t have time to waste, so we let them work in the way that is most efficient for them; they can use the Evokat interface to key new product information in; alternatively, they can upload information from an Excel spreadsheet. That’s a key differentiator in our offering.
There are other companies attempting to compete in this space, but Illumaware has a significant lead in terms of delivering solutions. Some of these companies are getting ready to launch in six months, whereas Illumaware’s services are already available. Our core technology is stable and in use among our customers. Our resources are being directed towards enhancing our platform, and adding even more value to our services. We are launching a new service, which will allow manufacturing sales representatives to leverage their clients’ Evokat data, to aid in the sales process. Seeing other companies beginning to enter this space makes us feel that the Illumaware vision has been validated, and we welcome the competition.
Illumaware’s Evokat and ItemExpress products are described as being designed in tandem with ACES and PIES standards, as opposed to other systems that build these standards onto their offerings. Can you elaborate on how your products are built differently and what this means for customers?
We chose a technology stack that would allow us to grow and change not only with the industry standards, but also with our customers’ needs. We are leveraging a state-of-the-art platform that is not used anywhere else in the automotive aftermarket. It allows us to add to the types of information that we collect dynamically, all while keeping each customer’s information separate and secure. It has proven to be of tremendous value in our ability to adapt to changing circumstances. It also means that the cost of change is very low. If the standards should change, or a customer’s needs should change, Evokat can evolve to accommodate the changes, without generating costly migration/upgrade tasks for the customer or for Illumaware. Lastly, being a service means not having to deploy software changes to a variety of customers, which of course represents a significant cost savings.
In contrast, software solutions which have added PIES/ACES support after the fact generally require the customer to take on an upgrade project to ensure that the new support gets added to their systems correctly. That’s additional time, effort and cost.
What is the most common complaint or roadblock you hear about from customers when it comes to data synchronization? Is it money, time, manpower?
When it comes to data synchronization, the most common complaint we hear from customers involves the sheer volume of tasks required. Keep in mind that much of this information currently resides in spreadsheets, text documents, paper catalogs, and employees’ heads. The effort required to collect, validate and export all of that information can be overwhelming, which makes data synchronization feel like a burden, instead of a benefit.
How do you help companies address these issues?
We help companies to address these issues by allowing them to provide us with their product information in whatever format they are able to easily produce, even a paper catalog. We then move their data into a data repository, where it can be more easily managed, reported on, et cetera. By handling this activity for them, we remove one of the major roadblocks that sometimes cause data synchronization initiatives to fail.
Once we have converted their data, we give them access to the Evokat service, and that’s it! They are now ready to interact with their data, simply, securely and in compliance with the standards. Implementation times vary between 48 hours and 7 days, as opposed to the months associated with traditional software solutions.
What in your opinion is the biggest issue or biggest priority for the industry when it comes to technology?
It’s eCommerce. There are two parts to it: the supporting data and process automation. It is critical that manufacturers in our space leverage technology to increase brand recognition, and to automate business processes wherever possible. Illumaware is working closely with Wrenchead to ensure that manufacturers have a real option for a complete set of solutions that will enable them to grow sales and reduce costs simultaneously. Illumaware’s Evokat is an easy-to-use tool to manage the information that supports business automations throughout the supply chain, including parts cataloging, ACES, PIES and more. Wrenchead’s Nexpart ecommerce solution delivers increased sales, better margins, brand enhancement and lower returns. Both Wrenchead and Illumaware have recognized that the software-as-a-service business model offers the opportunity to deliver huge value in these solutions at affordable costs.
It is important for resellers and manufacturers to recognize that having the capability to do business electronically is becoming critical to gaining a competitive advantage. This is particularly true when a high-quality set of manufacturer data is recognized for what it actually is: a crucial business asset. Once you have that high-quality data, the ability to move this information along the supply chain faster than your competition will be a valuable sales stimulator. Communicating this information quickly is particularly important to the SEMA side, where speed-to-market is so critical.
AAIW kicks off this week in Las Vegas. What do you have planned for the show(s)?
I am giving the eCommerce 101 presentation at the SEMA show this year, similar to the presentation I gave at the AAIA eForum in Chicago. We have meetings scheduled throughout the week with manufacturers and resellers alike. But equally important is that Industry Week represents a good opportunity to spend time with my wife Tracey, who will also be attending. We have a two-year-old boy, Andrew, and a one-year-old girl, Leah, at home, so we will also be enjoying some R and R in Las Vegas.