While there are many changes taking place in the electronic components distribution industry that will affect us in 2010 and beyond, one of the most commanding is how the internet and advances in electronic communication continue to alter the ways in which both consumers and companies do business.
For the electronic design engineer, much of the appeal of the internet has to do with time; a precious commodity that weighs heavily into the 'doing more with less' mindset prevalent these days. In a recent worldwide survey of electronic engineers, more than half of the respondents listed 'doing more with less' as the biggest change they have experienced in the past two years. The 'less' in 'doing more with less' is less time, and most often shorter design cycles and time to market requirements. The 'more' refers to the number of new concepts they are expected to come up with, increased job functions and responsibilities, and their involvement in more engineering disciplines, often outside their areas of expertise. Over the course of the next two years, these same engineers expect these 'more with less' pressures to increase significantly. Additionally, they predict the types and complexities of the projects they work on will change consequentially. They anticipate an influx of new technologies and these same engineers predict the invisible nooses that represent short design cycles will tighten. Aware of these challenges, the logical questions for an electronic components distributor to ask are: 'How can we help?' and 'What services can we provide that will make their jobs easier?'. To help answer these questions, we look at responses to questions such as 'What topics related to your job are you the most interested in?'. Overwhelmingly, engineers want information about the newest technologies and products, as well as quick access to product specifications, datasheets and the products themselves. The next logical discussion concerns the sources engineers rely on and from which they prefer to acquire information. While engineers continue to rely on trade publications and catalogues, the use of the websites of manufacturers, distributors and publishing companies – as well as search engines and social networking venues – is becoming prevalent. The methods distributors and others use to disseminate information via the internet are many – varying from Twitter Tweets to interactive engineering communities to vast online reference libraries. An example of a web based informational training tool designed specifically for design engineers is Digi-Key's library of more than 600 PTM Online… On Demand product training modules. Introduced in 2006 and produced by Digi-Key with the cooperation of participating suppliers, these 5 to 60 minute training modules provide information about new manufacturer specific technologies and products. Quick, convenient and compatible with a busy design engineer's schedule, these on demand training tools complement lengthier, more time consuming seminars and webinars. Adding further value to these training tools are parts lists, from which users can easily access product information pages with pricing and availability information and link to available product photos, technical drawings, and datasheets. They can also connect via live web chat to one of our technical support specialists. Another collaborative effort between Digi-Key and its suppliers is the information found on many of the supplier portals at uk.digikey.com. In addition to fully categorised and searchable listings of all of the products carried from each supplier, engineers will often find links to information about new and featured products, various tools and support, a listing of supplier events, seminars, and online webinars, and other documents such as newsletters and various publications of interest. For distributors, the internet offers countless opportunities for educating customers. At Digi-Key, there is always something in the works to enhance and improve its website. The goal is to create a user friendly web environment that includes all of the tools and information a design engineer or purchasing professional needs to make an informed purchasing decision. For the consumer, empowerment comes from the ability to source products quickly, finding numerous products from many manufacturers that meet the specifications, price, quantity and availability requirements they are looking for. These products can be ordered and received without the buyer having to interact with another human being. In the past, buyers often relied on personal relationships to gain improved service. This dependency has diminished significantly and this type of relationship based marketing has largely been replaced by performance based marketing, that includes stocking the products a buyer needs, getting orders to them expeditiously and, should an issue arise, resolving it quickly and to their satisfaction. However, performance based marketing does not removes the human element from buy/sell equation. Frequently, the click of a mouse cannot provide the support an engineer needs. There are times when they are compelled to communicate with a 'real' person – an individual with access to knowledge who can take an order, answer questions or resolve a problem. This is a good fit for Digi-Key's business model. Instead of using an outside sales force, its sales, customer service and technical support staff is available at the customers' convenience 24/7 by telephone, fax, email, and the website. Finally, the business cycle that began at the end of 2008 and continued into this year, affected all in the electronic components distribution industry. The level to which we were affected and our reactions to the downturn varied from company to company. Having been in business for 37 years, Digi-Key has experienced the ebb and flow of many business cycles. During these cycles, its philosophy has been that temporary challenges also bring unique opportunities. If business slows a bit, we have time to catch our breath, make assessments, and ultimately, make improvements. While some of these improvements, such as enhancements to websites, are obvious to the customer, others, such as the streamlining of internal processes, are less obvious. All are to the benefit of the customer. Digi-Key has also viewed this most recent business cycle as an opportunity to gain market share. Regardless of the economic climate, design engineers continue to create innovative, next generation solutions and it continues to make available the components required to take customer's ideas from the workbench to the production line. While many competitors have cut back on inventory, Digi-Key has continued to aggressively stock those parts our customers want and to add new products to the offering. Europe continues to represent one of the strongest areas of growth and Digi-Key is optimistic about the future. With a focus on board level components, we aim to keep our product offering stronger than that of our competitors. We realise, however, that engineers have many choices and know we have to prove our value. In providing them with the products they need and the service they deserve, we believe that design engineers will recognise the value Digi-Key has to offer. Lastly, as we continue to grow our business one valued customer at a time, we believe that by consistently performing for our customers, we will achieve our goal of becoming the distributor with which customers prefer to do business. Founded in 1972 on the premise of providing customers with the best possible service, electronic component distributor Digi-Key continues to focus on superior service in areas that include product selection and availability, on time delivery and responsiveness. Digi-Key is an authorised distributor for more than 400 of the world's most trusted manufacturers and is committed to stocking all of the more than 450,000 products featured in its print catalogues. Using leading edge processes and state of the art technologies, Digi-Key serves a global customer base from its 600,000 square foot headquarters and Products Distribution Center in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, US.