Like our readers, we've heard the reports that technology will be either the savior or the death of the PHCP wholesaler. In fact, we've passed along many of these promises and threats within these pages over the years.

Starting this month, we're adding two regular technology-related sections to Supply House Times. Technology News will keep track of what's happening with Web sites, bar codes, electronic commerce, EDI, and other computer-related issues and systems. The Focus on Technology column will offer advice and perspective from experts who can tell wholesalers the best ways to use technology to improve their operations.

It's not that we've just discovered technology. As I said, we've been reporting on it for years. But we do want to make news about technology easier to find in the magazine and do a better job of showing how wholesalers can use it to their advantage.

Computers and electronic commerce will be of critical importance to PHCP wholesalers in the new century. We agree with the manufacturer who comments elsewhere in this issue that the major differentiating factor among supply-chain companies in the coming years will be how well they play the electronic game.

What wholesalers have to keep in mind is that technology is a tool, not an end in itself. If it doesn't help a wholesaler be more efficient and more profitable, there's not much point to it.

Used properly, though, technology can greatly enhance a wholesaler's business. EDI, for example, can drastically reduce order-entry errors and free up employees to work on tasks more productive than placing and taking orders.

Technology also can enable wholesalers to develop Web sites to promote their companies, sell more product, and offer technical help to customers more efficiently than over the phone or at the counter.

A problem facing smaller wholesalers is seeing the short-term benefits, especially considering the investment in dollars and man-hours in implementing new processes.

Companies fortunate enough to have leaders with the vision to see where the industry is heading have an advantage in winning the electronic game. But even these companies face a steep and expensive learning curve.

All PHCP wholesalers can shorten that curve, however, by looking at the best practices of distributors in other industries. Looking at electrical distributors and their Industry Data Warehouse is a good place to start.

Wholesalers who win the electronic game will take advantage of technology to increase the productivity of their employees, reduce costly errors, and improve communication with their vendors and their customers.