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This year, over 300 members of the NAW attended the annual executive summit in Washington DC. The theme of this year’s summit was “Transform or Be Left Behind.” It was the most well attended executive summit in the long history of the NAW, and for good reason.

The industry is evolving and distributors recognize that to remain relevant, they need to move from traditional to digital distribution. Executive summit participants were eager to hear from peers and thought leaders about how to start a rapid digital business transformation.

Rapid digital transformation is the profound and accelerating transformation of a distributor’s business models, processes, and work to fully leverage digital technologies and their impact across the supply chain in a strategic way, with revenue growth strategies in mind.

Distributors were interested in learning about:

  • Multi-industry business models to connect to people, devices, and business networks

  • Optimized business processes to focus on the essential tasks and change business processes

  • How to make better business decisions to get any insight on any data from anywhere

I have attended over a dozen NAW Executive Summits over the years. This year’s summit may have been the best I have ever had the privilege of attending. Both the content and networking discussion were centered on “transforming now”. Distributors were concerned about the wholesale distribution industry following in the footsteps of the challenged retail industry.

As I listened to each of the presenters, I jotted down the key industry transformational imperatives, all of which had the same tone and require new enabling technology. They included:

  1. Changing from playing defense to offense

  2. Moving from an internal to an external business focus

  3. Playing to win rather than playing to not lose

  4. Growing from commodity based product offerings to extended value-added services

  5. Altering mass marketing to precision marketing

  6. Evolving from a venerable to a contemporary industry

  7. Focusing on high-profit not just high-volume revenue product and customers

At the end of an expert panel discussion, Dr. Barry Lawrence, the Director of the Global Supply Chain Laboratory at Texas A&M University, may have summarized the need to transform technology or be left behind best when he told the executive audience, “If you’re not on a current ERP system, you better do so quickly”.

My interpretation of his comment was that distributor need to rapidly put in a contemporary digital “ERP” platform to build a standardized foundation to reduce risk during business growth. This foundation is required before distributors can extend their IT coverage for business process performance acceleration, and differentiate themselves by utilizing new technologies to provide superior information and value.