Scroll down

Dave Chapman, sales and marketing director at BSW Timber, explores how Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) Technology is improving the relationships between the timber industry and builders’ merchants.

The Covid-19 pandemic has rapidly changed the marketplace for builders’ merchants, with a shift in customer behaviour, service expectations and general market dynamics.

This has been compounded with Brexit which has led to the reduction in the number of people working in the sector and inherently a pressure on companies’ efficiencies.

Builders’ merchants are now having to seek out new ways of working, and this includes with the interaction with their suppliers. The focus for all involved in the supply chain is how to improve efficiency, effectiveness and accuracy so that resources can be better redistributed to other areas of the business such as customer service.

Suppliers have a significant role to play in helping merchants navigate the new ‘norm’ in post-Covid world.

One way in which this can be done is through the use of technology, and the benefits it can offer to streamlining many of the paper-based ordering and invoicing processes.

Moving into the 21st century, the timber industry is now embracing Electronic Data Interchange. First originating in the grocery sector, EDI now saves that sector over £650 million a year simply by moving from paper-based exchange of business documents to one that is electronic.

Embracing this way of working means both suppliers and builders’ merchants can enjoy major benefits such as reduced costs, increased processing speed, fewer errors and improved relationships.

EDIs replace postal mail and email, and fax for anyone still using this method. While email has been the go-to for several years, documents sent this way still have to be handled by people rather than computers, which takes these individuals away from being able to complete other jobs at a time when there are substantial labour shortages.

In contrast EDIs work on a computer-to-computer basis so that documents flow straight through to the appropriate application.

In our industry context, a builders’ merchant can place an order online for a pack or a full load which is then processed and sent straight to the warehouse for picking and distributing, all within a matter of minutes.

Delivery notifications and invoices can also be transacted using the same technology and each additional document moved to using EDIs processing will bring about further efficiencies for the supply chain and merchant alike.

The increase in business efficiency and accuracy is a major factor in the adoption of EDI for the industry and the ability to automate paper-based tasks frees up employees to concentrate on higher-value tasks that are now business critical since the impact of Covid-19.

Having worked with some early adopters within BSW Group’s network of builders’ merchant customers, feedback has shown that there have been significant savings in time and an increase in efficiency and accuracy through the use of EDI.

Human error can still have an impact on the accuracy of transactions and EDI undoubtedly reduces the need for re-working of orders, fewer out of stocks and less cancelled orders.

There is no getting away from the fact that information is power, and EDI can provide visibility and information in real time. The information can be used for faster decision making and improved responsiveness to changing customer and market demands, allowing builders’ merchants to adopt a demand-driven business model rather a supply-driven one.

There are also no barriers to who can adopt or use EDIs. Builders’ merchants of all sizes can look to utilise the technology. It is also true, though, that the more transactions merchants complete, the more benefits will be felt through the adoption of EDI.

While there is a significant role for technology to play in driving efficiency and accuracy, it will never completely replace the need for a customer service team.

Builders’ merchants still have questions and at times, still require to be able to talk to someone for advice or help.

It will be the combination of technology and the personal touch that will be the ultimate customer service offer going forward and everyone has a place in the supply chain must be prepared to embrace this as quickly as possible to deliver the efficiencies for our customers during these challenging market conditions.