The American Supply Association plans to develop an industrywide standard database and is recruiting volunteers to man a task force to study the issue. This was revealed at ASA's 8th electronic commerce blue ribbon summit during its recent convention in Las Vegas.

"This fall we surveyed wholesaler members of ASA and got responses from 85, including some of the largest in the industry," said Jack Hester, president of F.W. Webb (Burlington, Mass.) and current ASA president. "We wanted to find out what the major wholesalers need for their database. Their overwhelming response was that they want UPC codes, and Source ASA+ should put less emphasis on product information that resembles catalog information."

The standard database would include information such as correct model, accurate pricing, physical characteristics, packaging quantities, descriptions, category classifications and data for electronic transactions, said Kevin Price, director of ASA's Center for Advancing Technology.

The Associate Member Division of ASA supports the association's efforts to go forward with the database, Hester said.

"Of the 85 manufacturers on Source now, only about one-third give complete UPC code information," Hester said. "We're going back to the AMD to focus on the 85 members on Source now and get a complete database. We've sent letters to 400 manufacturers providing a list of 84 wholesalers that have expressed support of the database. We are gaining momentum. Of 60 responses to date, 40 are positive."

The proposed task force will include about seven wholesalers and an equal number of manufacturers and several software providers, Hester said. ASA also plans to enlist the support of buying groups to help convince manufacturers of the importance of the database.

"We're looking for volunteers from sales and marketing, engineering, management and information technology departments to serve on the task force," Price said.

The industry requires a uniform format for product identification and the best candidate for that is the UPC code, Price said. The UPC code identifies the product and its manufacturer, but packaging and pallet codes also can be built into it.

"This information can be critical to the success of the modern distribution business," he said. "Many wholesalers in our industry do not use EDI or bar coding or automated pricing updates. How much more successful could they be by employing these methods? Each comes with a price tag, but implemented over time they can pay for themselves and deliver a healthy return on investment."