Web navigation tools boost Arrow Electronics sales

With the help of stronger search and navigation tools, Arrow Electronics is making sales that are 400 percent bigger than those it's used to closing.

The Global Information Business (GIB) division of distributor Arrow Electronics sells information to users who need to research, design with, buy or manage electronic components. GIB amasses hoards of product data - today its databases contain information about 23 million components, each with between 25 and 50 attributes - which it makes available to users on a subscription basis.

In the past, the search capabilities of GIB's browser-based component selection application, called Global Explorer, were limited. Users could search by part number, but little else, says Chris Henry, vice president and general manager of GIB. This meant GIB's services were most suited to users who had an idea of what they were looking for and how to describe the item - such as those in purchasing and materials management roles, Henry says.

Its services weren't very useful to design engineers, who are in product-research mode. "The challenge for us was trying to add value for design engineers who are in the process of doing research and they don't necessarily know a part number," Henry says. "We started out with part-number searches and learned fairly quickly that wasn't appropriate for that group."

To increase its sales range, GIB last spring deployed search and navigation tools from software maker Endeca Technologies Inc.

With Endeca's InFront software, users can find components by searching for a full or partial part number, keyword or manufacturer, or by using Endeca's guided search features to prioritize component parameters. For example, an engineer looking for memory could begin by defining the type of memory needed, then move on to select density, voltage and performance parameters.

The versatility of search options means GIB can sell its services to more users along the corporate supply chain, Henry says. Instead of selling a company an individual license, GIB is now selling multi-seat subscription packages which are five to 15 times larger than single-user license deals, he says.

Part of the reason GIB chose Endeca's software is its "guided navigation" features. As a search progresses, Endeca InFront eliminates irrelevant information and returns only valid product choices. This way, users can't choose options for components that don't exist, Henry says.

"That's a frustration with a lot of the search engines today," Henry says. "Engineers go through a long search stream, only to not get an answer, and they don't know where in the stream they made a call that caused them to get knocked off the path."

GIB worked with Endeca to customize the software maker's existing "find similar" feature, which allows users to find alternative product sources if their original choice is not available, for example. In GIB's deployment, the Endeca software adds the ability to specify parameter ranges, such as "between 1.8 to 4.5 volts," Henry says.

The two companies also worked to develop a "master list" feature that's new to Endeca InFront. With it, GIB corporate customers can upload into a customized master list all the electronics components that they have already approved and limit their employees' searching to only those components that are on the company's master list.

The master list feature allows GIB customers to keep their component options at a manageable level and encourages design engineers to reuse devices that are already deployed at their companies, Henry says.

"It's expensive if a company keeps introducing brand-new parts when it doesn't have to," Henry says. "They don't get the economies of scale if they keep designing with different parts."

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