We developed for RAEC cross-relation guide for fast analogues search among 2 million electrotechnical components
The Russian Association of Electrotechnical Companies (RAEC) is a union of 14 largest distributors of electrotechnical products: Elevel, Elcom-Electro, Electron, AVC-electro and others.
RAEC members work with 30 suppliers: Schneider Electric, Gauss, Philips, ERA and others. In total, 2 million sold items are constantly being updated and supplemented. The volume of sales in 2021 amounted to 1.43 billion dollars.
The problem: it’s impossible for a manager to memorize 2 million components in order to correctly advise RAEC customers
Let’s say the customer wants to buy a batch of Philips 60W light bulbs with an E27 socket. The distributor may not have them for multiple reasons:
- the order is for 1000 light bulbs, but there is only 500 pieces in stock;
- the order can only be delivered in a month, but it is needed right now;
- the distributor stopped selling Philips products;
- the manufacturer changed the color temperature of its light bulb to "warm" white, while the customer needs a "cooler" white;
- the model is outdated and is withdrawn from production;
- the price rose and the customers’ budget is insufficient to cover existing needs, etc.
In such cases, the distributor can offer the customer an equivalent from its own stock or from its RAEC affiliates. But to do this, the manager who works with the client, will need to remember all suitable equivalents, to check their availability in the warehouses and to offer them to the client. Offering an equivalent even for such a simple item like the light bulb mentioned above can be quite complicated:
- we open the folder called “Light bulbs” ;
- from 9 subfolders we then open the one called “LED light bulbs”;
- from the next 15 subfolders we open the one called “standard LED light bulbs (A55, A60)”;
- from 30 different options presented there we choose the needed equivalent.
At the time of launch (after three months of operations) RAEC had transferred into Pimcore 93378 items. “Lighting” was the category chosen to be tested. During the following year, RAEC transferred into Pimcore the full range of their 2 million components.
Client requests can cover several parameters at once. For example, there is a request for a circuit-breaker device, fitted with a specified overcurrent tripping relay with fixed rated current and voltage. Considering all the above characteristics, it must be within a certain price range and an order of 50 pieces must be delivered within a week.
In this case, the manager must have a perfect knowledge of all the models of every device and know by heart all 2 million components, while keeping in mind their price and their availability in the company’s’ or its partner’s warehouses.
No one can remember that much. It becomes a problem for the business.
- The communication with the client is delayed because the search for an equivalent can take several days. Meanwhile, some clients may find other options.
- There is an increasing burden on managers with more experience because only they can handle complex queries. This prevents business from scaling.
- There is a decrease in inventory turnover ratio. The most popular items are sold out quickly, while the others are not being sold at all.
- There is a lack of synchronization between RAEC members. For example, a manager knows that 3 days ago a certain component was not in stock. Most likely, he will not offer it to the client if the shipment is received on the day of the sale.
- The client looses trust in the company when not being offered a suitable equivalent: «they do not know what they are selling».
In order to solve these problems, RAEC turned to kt.team.
The task: to create a system of instant search for equivalent electronic components
In just a few seconds the manager must get a list of equivalent electrotechnical components that the client is looking for. It is unacceptable that the experience of the employee or the complexity of the request prevent the client from receiving prompt and high-quality assistance.
The cross-relation guide must take into account the technical characteristics of the component, its price, its brand and manufacturer, its availability in stock, the speed of delivery, and the contracts signed between RAEC members.
Moreover, the system must show both absolute and partial equivalents of the component. 2 light bulbs with the same socket and the same wattage are absolute equivalents. But if only the socket is the same, then they are partial equivalents.
When new components are added into the system, equivalents must be matched automatically, without the involvement of IT specialists or company managers. In the same way should be updated automatically the availability of components in the warehouses of RAEC members after each shipment.
Within 3 months kt.team developed a unified database of electrotechnical components and a cross-relation guide of their equivalents
RAEC members could record the same component in different ways, with different attributes and names. We unified 2 million items of electrotechnical components from the RAEC database. We then programmed the new structure in Pimcore and linked it through an API with the RAEC database and with the systems of the association members.
In addition, together with RAEC specialists, we developed matching rules for each subcategory of components and, based on them, we built a cross-relation guide. The manager makes a query and through the API goods are loaded from distributors systems into Pimcore. The system then automatically categorizes the components and selects their equivalents.
Outcome 1: the system finds equivalents in 5 seconds
How it was: following a client’s request, the manager opened the database and searched for equivalents manually, based on their own knowledge of electrotechnical components and of the necessary attributes.
Up to 4 managers could work on a large order, searching for equivalents. Most complex requests were addressed to electrical engineers. The search could last several days.
How it is now: the system finds equivalents in five seconds. The manager can now provide information to clients in real time via telephone, social media or in person.
To make this possible, kt.team, together with RAEC experts, formalized the matching rules for Lighting category. The collection and the digitization of these rules lasted 8 iterations, and now the system has detailed guides, taking into account the experience of more than a dozen professional managers and engineers.
We made this process universal: now RAEC members can add their own matching rules for the remaining 13 categories of components. They no longer need to engage IT-companies to do this, meaning that their overall software development budget will benefit.
Outcome 2: Managers monitor turnover ratio of components in warehouses and take into account their cost-efficiency
The manager can now offer the customer an equivalent component that has been in stock for a while, of a less popular brand, for example. The manager can also sell first components with higher cost-efficiency.
This is best appreciated when participating in tenders. Typically, requirements do not specify actual brands or models, but mostly technical features of components. And with the help of the new system, the manager will be able to come up with a proposal within the stated budget.
Outcome 3: the database of component and of its equivalents is updated automatically without involving IT department
Every year the number of electrotechnical components sold by RAEC members increases. For example, in July 2022, 3500 items from a new vendor, Hyperline, were added to the database. Without an automated update process, the cross-relation guide will become outdated in a couple of months. Otherwise each RAEC member will need to manually update their database.
kt.team has developed a system that is updated automatically when any change is made to the information related to a component: adding new or deleting old items, changing characteristics, prices or quantities in stock in the warehouse.
RAEC managers can update data where it suits them best, and the system synchronizes the changed entries in Pimcore. The database is updated every 8 hours. For the changed components, an automatic search for equivalents is initiated. This way the system always reflects the current information about RAEC components.
- Any manager, regardless of their experience, can find an equivalent for any product in 5 seconds and not in 3 days as it used to be before.
- MVP system architecture is implemented for 1 of the 13 categories. The matching rules for the other categories are added by the customer, using the instructions and without engaging IT-companies. The software development budget benefits.
- The synchronization of the search system with the database of the components and the conversion of their equivalents is automatically initiated every 8 hours. Managers use the latest data to select products.
- The project was launched in three months.
- In one year, the full range of 2 million components was transferred into Pimcore