Electrical distributors embrace digitization

In his inaugural tED magazine column as NAED chair, Dan Dungan introduced his theme of “People. Process. Products.” Dan addressed the importance of digitization and the need for real-time, multilevel data to make intelligent business decisions, and he urged members to embrace this technology to succeed in the marketplace.


Digitization, which converts all processes, activities and transactions into binary code or the universal language of computers, enables a seamless customer experience based on real-time information. It’s the same technology that allows you to deposit your checks with an app or pay bills online and see your account balance change instantaneously. 


What does this mean for electrical distribution? As banks, telecommunications providers, credit card companies and other service providers undergo digital conversion, “connected” customers will expect similar access to data from their distributors.


Paper and manual processes will be replaced by digital platforms that track and report on internal processes and transactions, while providing customers with intuitive interfaces allowing them access to the same data. These connect customers want real-time, full-time, round-the-clock access to their accounts including order history, delivery tracking and account information.


Digitization will also require a change in how we recruit talent and train existing staff. To keep pace, we’ll need people who can program pricing algorithms and automate processes formerly conducted through traditional means. As we combine old knowledge with new skills, we’ll need “data scientists” and “user experience designers” to manage and interpret this newly available data.

While digitization presents challenges, it also opens the door to new opportunities. Accessibility to real-time data on reports and dashboards will allow us to identify and address problems before they reach critical stage. Further, when customers have similar access, they can identify issues and bring them to our attention more quickly, or resolve them on their own, perhaps with self-serve options. 

We’re already seeing the effects of digitization in marketing as companies integrate marketing automation with their CRM and ERP systems to deliver a personalized and customized messages to prospects throughout they buying journey. 

Digitization offers us a clean state—a chance to rethink and recreate the end-to-end customer experience. This will require input from all department or units of the business, as well as customers who are willing to express their concerns and challenge the status quo.   

Are we poised to address this challenge? We’re getting closer, but to meet these expectations and deliver the customer experience they already get from companies like UPS and Amazon, we as an industry must accelerate our digital transformation. We must reimagine and reinvent the entire business process, from inquiry and sale, to delivery and payment.
Return on investment for digitization won’t be immediate, but as each stage of the process is converted, companies will see incremental gains in efficiency as errors are reduced, systems are streamlined and customers take more responsibility for what was formerly internal processes.
As digital transformation continues to change the way we work, shop, learn and conduct business, the electrical distribution industry must equip itself with the people, processes and products to keep up with other industries, or be left behind.


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Tom Naber

Tom Naber

Former President & CEO, Naber served at NAED from 1997–2023. He joined NAED in 1997 as publisher of tED magazine. In 2001, he was appointed president of the Association, and in 2008 was promoted to President & Chief Executive Officer. Under Naber’s direction, the Association offered its members new products and services including expanded training opportunities; created joint industry task forces; and implemented new special interest conferences, such as the Women in Industry Forum. Before joining NAED, he served as editor of Electrical Contractor magazine, the publication of the National Electrical Contractors Association.