Speaking of Data

SEMA News—March 2017


By Mike Imlay

Speaking of Data

As He Retires, Jon Wyly Reflects on SEMA Data Co-op Successes

  Jon Wyly
After five years helming the SEMA SDC as chief executive officer, Jon Wyly is retiring. But not without some parting insights on the co-op’s accomplishments and the future of an industry increasingly concerned with standardizing, managing and expanding product data.

Jon Wyly was named chief executive officer of the then newly formed SEMA Data Cooperative (SDC) in March 2012. Now, with a career in the specialty parts marketplace spanning more than 35 years, Wyly is retiring from the SDC as of April 1.

A lifelong automotive enthusiast, Wyly is well known to the specialty parts industry for key roles in sales, marketing, e-commerce, business technology and data management. His background includes 25 years at Arrow Speed Warehouse, which he joined immediately after earning a bachelor’s degree in economics at Oklahoma State University in 1983. There he worked his way up through the ranks of sales, operations and marketing, ending as executive vice president. More recently, before joining the SDC, he served as vice president of e-commerce at Keystone Automotive.

Wyly’s broad experience in specialty parts and data-management applications has given him exceptional insight into how sales can be driven by accurate, standardized data. Leading up to the formation of the SDC, he co-founded the SEMA Business Technology Committee and served in numerous SEMA task forces and work groups, including six years on the SEMA Board of Directors. In addition, he was recognized for his major contributions to the aftermarket in 2005, when he was named SEMA Person of the Year.

For the past five years, Wyly’s casual, no-nonsense columns on the SDC have been a regular feature of SEMA News. Now, on the eve of his retirement, we take this opportunity for a brief Q&A with Wyly to review the co-op’s incredible growth under his leadership, along with his predictions on the future of the SDC and industry data management in general.

SEMA News: To help our readers gain some perspective on how far the SDC has come, where was the co-op five years ago when you first came aboard?

Jon Wyly: March of 2012, when I was brought on to set this project in motion, actually marked the beginning of the SDC operation as we know it today. For a number of years prior to that, a dedicated group of volunteers, consultants and SEMA staff explored every conceivable aspect of such an undertaking.

Speaking of Data
Jim Graven, senior director of membership (left), discussed the advantages of SDC membership with numerous prospects at the recent 2016 SEMA Show. Throughout its first five years, the fledgling SDC made one-to-one industry contact a priority to help manufacturer-suppliers deliver clean, robust data seamlessly to qualified receivers, boosting sales.

What began as a business technology task force exploring data exchange through EDI [electronic data interchange] evolved into the Business Technology Committee that soon focused on the many questions surrounding product data-management needs and opportunities. What does the industry need? Are these needs being met by private operators? Is SEMA equipped to deliver everything that would define a successful undertaking? These questions and many more were explored in great detail to ensure that SEMA was on the right track with respect to product data management. March of 2012 simply marked the beginning of the journey to build and deliver this important service.

SN: And where is the SDC today?

JW: I’m proud to say that what began as a very steep learning curve in the first couple of years has developed into the industry’s largest openly accessible product data repository. We’ve brought innovative online data-management tools to the marketplace. We’re staffed with an expert team of data analysts and a management group that is highly motivated to provide the best service possible—and the most affordable data-management services the industry has ever seen. Day one, five years ago, we set out to find member number one. Today, five years later, we’re working with more than 500 brands and have more than 1,000 data receivers representing tens of thousands of wholesale, retail and online businesses.

SN: What were the greatest challenges in building the SDC and its membership?

JW: I would have to say that the learning curve was very steep and challenging. When we kicked this project off in 2012, we engaged some of the brightest experts in the field to map out a course for this new business. Of all our accomplishments, I’m most proud of the team we have built. What started as the original three—myself, Bob Castle, vice president of e-business and information technology, and Jim Graven, senior director of membership—has now grown to a staff of 12 covering all aspects of the business.

In the beginning, we seemed to have quite a knack for missing the mark on just about everything we thought we knew. However, once we got past the design and construction of our online Product Information Management System (PIMS), under the watchful eye of Castle and great support and innovation from Ed Heon and the DATAgility team, our momentum began to build. Equally as challenging as the original design launch was our decision to bring all development and systems management in-house with SDC staff. I count us very fortunate to have put a great team together that has successfully taken us to the next level in capability.

SN: Along with the SDC itself, that SDC team has also grown over the last five years. What can you tell us about the team and its ability to assist members or those considering membership?

JW: Again, I may sound a bit like a proud papa here, but this team has met every expectation I ever set and is truly dedicated to serving the SEMA marketplace. This team now handles all membership recruitment, data services and support, e-business, technical services and development, making the SDC totally self-sufficient and directly hands-on with every aspect of the business. This allows us to be especially nimble and responsive, supporting our “fastest speed to market in the business” goal.

Jim Graven and his right-hand man, Membership Manager Allen Horwitz, are on the front lines every day, searching out new members and introducing them to the world of product data management. Their unassuming style backed with serious expertise is a comfort to every new member, whom we consider to be part of the SDC family.

Behind the scenes, Clint Walton, membership support, runs the day-to-day operations of our data lab. These analysts know their stuff, and there isn’t a data-related question we can’t get to the bottom of.

  Speaking of Data
SDC team members (left to right) Dylan Copella, developer; Jim Graven, senior director of membership; Jon Wyly, CEO; and Arlene Wood, administrative assistant, assessed their day’s accomplishments at their 2016 SEMA Show exhibit space. An annual presence at the Show—along with expert readiness to answer any and every question—helped gain industry confidence early on, growing the non-profit co-op quickly.

Likewise, Stephanie Jones, our director of e-business, is deeply involved in the details of everything from systems enhancement to the often-complicated details within the data standards themselves. She has two very talented developers that have yet to say no to any request.

And finally, Craig Schmutzler, our vice president of operations, who is officially taking over for me April 1, is a relentlessly detail-oriented, service-minded leader who will continue to drive the SDC to the highest standard of service and quality. My confidence in Craig is illustrated in the fact that this is the third time I have hired him!

SN: Given the number of data-management solutions to choose from, why should a business consider the SDC over the alternatives?

JW: The SDC exists because the industry saw the need. Moreover, operating as a SEMA-owned and -operated, not-for-profit entity, the SDC is here to serve industry needs first and foremost. As Allen Horwitz likes to put it, we are a mission-driven organization, not a profit-driven one. That gives us the unique position to continue investment in the latest technology, the highest level of service, and the safety and security of an industry-owned operation that exists to serve its membership first and foremost.

The SDC has a great list of value propositions, so when we identify a potential member, we have a lot to talk about. Our sales effort is very tactical, with lots of one-on-one interaction to make sure that every potential question is answered and that we don’t mislead anyone into a bad decision.

SN: The current SDC goal seems to be encouraging richer, more robust data among members. Can you tell us more about the tools the SDC offers (or soon will) toward that goal?

JW: A primary goal in 2017 is to focus intently on data quality and completeness and to automate as much of that work as we possibly can. Unfortunately, the very nature of product data demands that it be complete, well-described, accurate, standards-compliant and, in many cases, of original content. That necessitates some degree of manual work in order to truly build and maintain a great data set—one that we would call Platinum Level. By automating the more mundane tasks, we look to help members make better use of their available time to put their effort where it is most needed.

SN: The specialty-equipment industry often has been characterized as lagging behind others when it comes to robust product data. In your opinion, how do things currently stand in this regard?

JW: We have come a long way in the past few years. Would I like to see more universal adoption of great data-management practices? Absolutely! It can be frustrating to talk about data management to a supplier that just doesn’t quite see the forest for the trees. All anyone has to do is look at the dramatic increases in online sales to realize that product data is key to future sales and sales growth.

In this online environment, consumers are demanding information with which to make buying decisions, and most of the time, there is no salesperson involved to help things along. Much like social media has affected the way people interact day to day, online marketers and sellers are driving business with technology. Great “decision-able” content, pictures, videos and more work to saturate potential buyers with enough information to make a quick buying decision.

This past Black Friday/Cyber Monday was a great example, showing a measurable decrease in brick-and-mortar sales that was offset by an even greater increase in online sales. It’s fast and easy, and when presented with enough data, it’s confidence inspiring.

SN: The SDC offers both do-it-for-me and do-it-yourself models to members. How have these models helped to contribute to the
SDC’s success?

JW: Our core model is what we describe as “do it yourself with lots of help,” and it has served us very well. This model drives home a core belief we have that manufacturers—we call them suppliers—should be proactively involved in the data-management process. After all, who knows more about their parts than they do? This do-it-yourself model is supported by the very powerful online PIMS that I mentioned earlier.

As a matter of necessity, we also offer do-it-for-me onboarding, which means that we can, for a modest fee, do all the preparation and gathering of product data for a new supplier, then build out the initial data set to completion. At that point, we train the supplier in the PIMS and give the company total control to maintain its own data from that point on.

SN: The SDC recently began rolling out SEMA Search. Can you explain the application and how it’s progressing?

JW: SEMA Search is an online electronic catalog that displays all of the products available in the SDC repository. Parts can be located by year/make/model/engine and can be browsed through categories in a cascading information tree or through a keyword search. It is currently designed to be a reference source, giving trade users a view of the scope of products available across all participating brands. Future plans hold some interesting possibilities, including the ability to show manufacturer inventory levels and perhaps even help facilitate the delivery of purchase orders, tracking and other transaction details.

SN: So what do the next five years hold for the SDC? What new directions do you see on the horizon?

JW: It’s a bit hard to “crystal ball” technology, but I can tell you that the SDC is very well positioned to stay on the leading edge of product data management. What that exactly entails is anybody’s guess as online selling continues to mature. That said, things you can put in your “likely to happen” sights include exponential increases in the amount of data being gathered, stored and distributed. That will drive more and more direct connections for data delivery and less housing of data outside the main repository. We are already seeing this happen in both web and brick-and-mortar businesses and expect it to be the norm rather than the exception in the near future. Digital assets are also a high-demand, high-result part of the data picture.

Today, many suppliers are struggling to provide a single image of a particular product, while at the same time, consumers are demanding multiple angles, magnification, rotation and lots of video content. The sheer growth in digital-asset demand and the massive storage volume it represents alone will eventually drive the direct-connection approach.

More About the SDC  
To learn more about the SDC and how your business can take control of its product data, manage it at the lowest possible cost, and thereby achieve more sales, contact SDC Senior Director of Membership Jim Graven at jimg@semadatacoop.org or 888-958-6698 x4.  

There’s also a lot of conversation these days in the business-technology world about full-service platforms. There are many highly qualified innovators out there who are methodically stitching services together to provide the most seamless, hands-off business transactions possible. The SDC is working closely with several of these folks to investigate how the power of the SDC repository can help some of these systems come alive. Much like data management itself, though, adoption can be challenging. Nobody wants to be first, and nobody wants to be last.

SN: Any other parting thoughts you’d like to share with SEMA members upon your retirement from the SDC?

JW: As the outgoing CEO and one of the founders of the SDC, I guess I would finish with these thoughts: I would love to see the SDC become the singular centralized data repository for the specialty-parts market. Imagine the efficiency and cost savings involved if suppliers only had to manage their data in one place and receivers could go to one place to satisfy all of their data demands.

If you think about the scope of that statement, you begin to realize how early we are in our journey, despite how much we have accomplished. There are literally thousands of manufacturers of products in the SEMA world, and every one of them can benefit from a quality data-management regimen that will produce increased exposure, increased sales, fewer returns—and more profitable business.

It sounds compelling doesn’t it? Yet we still find ourselves dragging the horse to water and trying to make him drink. For myself personally, it has been a privilege to be a part of this effort, and I look forward to hearing about the many great strides this qualified team will make in the coming years.

Good luck and good selling to all of you!

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