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Data Interchange Initiative Looks to Enhance Communication Among Foodservice Industry Business Partners

The foodservice equipment and supplies industry has fallen behind other industries when it comes to effective electronic communications capabilities with trading partners. 

The industry operates in an archaic and inefficient manner, replying via facsimile machines, phone calls and voicemails to conduct tasks that could be done electronically without human intervention. This inefficiency has led to increased labor costs, delays and mistakes. So says Brad Pierce, president of Restaurant Equipment World, a Florida-based foodservice equipment and supplies dealership.

In his role as president of the Foodservice Equipment Distributors Association, Pierce has assembled an all-industry team that includes dealers, independent manufacturers’ reps, foodservice equipment and supplies manufacturers and even AutoQuotes, the provider of catalog, design and quotation software for the industry. The goal? To create a comprehensive data interchange system that allows trading partners to share information in real time and enhance the way the supply chain supports foodservice operators.

FE&S caught up with Pierce to get a better handle on the scope of the project, where it stands today and more.

FE&S: In layman’s terms, describe the data interchange initiative.
BP: We are trying to increase efficiencies. Our industry acts in an antiquated fashion when it comes to exchanging information. Some companies will email information. Some call. And others will fax information. That impacts communication and workload for ?everyone involved, including the end user who just wants to get their product in the most efficient manner. Today, each trading partner uses their own communication method and language. What we are trying to do is get everyone speaking the same language.

FE&S: How do foodservice operators benefit from this?
BP: More timely communication of order acknowledgement, status and more. All of these processes usually require the end user to wait for a call back from someone to get that information. Now this information will have the ability to flow from the manufacturer through the dealer to the operator faster and in real time. Eventually, everyone can see the same information about the order acknowledgement, ship date and more. This will allow those of us in the supply chain to spend our capital resources on providing the value-added aspects of customer service rather than tracking shipments.

FE&S: How has this been received by the other parts of the supply chain?
BP: It has been beyond enthusiastic, which continues to blow me away. Manufacturers, reps and everyone across the board has been enthusiastic. If there are any naysayers, they have not made themselves known to me. Our biggest challenge is having too many dealers and manufacturers wanting to be part of the testing process.

FE&S: Where are you with the process?
BP: The backend interface is done and testing began in January. How long the testing lasts will depend on what we run into. We have tried to pick different types of companies to be part of the testing process and to be as inclusive as we can. If it works for one custom manufacturer, then it likely works for others. On the dealer side, we have some of the industry’s bigger players involved and when they say the industry needs a more automated supply chain, more people want to participate. But the key to this project is getting it to market quickly, preferably the first half of this year. But this is a longer-term project that will morph and change over time.

FE&S: Describe the result, meaning what will be the outcome of this project and how will it impact operators and other members of the supply chain?
BP: We are trying to provide instant, actionable information that will allow a purchasing decision or transaction to happen immediately. We will have a dashboard that will show what was shipped when, invoice price, tracking numbers and more. So if I am working on a specific project, I can call it up and look at every order, ship date and more. This will allow me to see what’s working and where the problem areas may be. So if the project has 250 items but only 6 will cause me a problem, I now know how to better spend my time to meet my customer’s expectations. This should help eliminate some of the surprises or things that slip through the cracks and impact getting the job done on time. This will also help execute other aspects of a job, including working with a service agent to set up an installation or a rep to schedule training. Everyone in the industry benefits. FEDA may be leading this but it ultimately benefits the greater good of the industry.