Thanks to the Internet, it is easier than ever to find electronic components. And though the various sources of parts really have not changed since the early days of the industry, a snazzy website can make even the least reputable reseller look like a fully legitimate, trustworthy source.
What every buyer is after is guaranteed, genuine, factory-original parts fully warranted by the manufacturer, with dependable delivery and the best price available. Much has been written about the growing proliferation of counterfeit parts in the supply chain and the safeguard that comes from sticking with factory authorized distributors; but honestly, even that isn’t fool proof. A full-fledged authorized distributor with dozens of franchised lines may also buy parts from suppliers they are not authorized for (for a variety of perfectly good reasons) as well as, in a pinch, buy parts for which they are authorized from other distributors, including a breed known as a “master distributor.”
I’m not going to get into the details here of the various types of authorized distributor business models, nor will I tackle the even more convoluted world of non-authorized sources. But the differences are critically important. The ultimate safeguard for any buyer is a complete and in-depth audit of their chosen sources, but that is usually not practical for obvious reasons. A great way to practically accomplish that would be through the application of some sort of universally accepted, trusted, and unimpeachable third-party standard to which distributors of electronic components would voluntarily seek certification.
The Electronic Components Industry Association (www.eciaonline.org) is even now taking a hard look at the idea of developing an industry standard that identifies the processes and business practices that an authorized distributor should follow to ensure delivery of genuine parts, which includes the documentation and support that both the customer and the supplier expect.
Today, the fact that a distributor is a member of the ECIA offers assurance that they are, in the main, authorized by the manufacturers they display on their line card and website. But there are many authorized distributors who have yet to join the ECIA; in fact, even for those that have, the extent of the ECIA’s filter is limited to a comprehensive verification of reputation and line card supplier authorizations. What the ECIA is considering is something that goes much deeper so that it will, in effect, serve as a stand-in for a buyer’s own audit of selected sources. Think of it as a cross between the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval and a quality standard such as ISO or AS9000.
Distributors would approach this in the same way they do a quality standard, documenting their business processes (in fact, much of what is needed for this may already exist for those who are ISO or AS registered) and demonstrating compliance during regularly scheduled audits. The ECIA may be the auditor or, more likely, engage a third-party audit firm to conduct the audits, much like ISO. Distributors that meet the criteria—and can demonstrate that to the auditor’s satisfaction—receive the certification and can promote that fact on their website, literature, and so forth.
This is an idea whose time has come. In fact, I think it is long overdue. Let me know what you think and I’ll be sure your input gets to the ECIA committee that is looking at this.
Michael Knight is senior vice president, Americas, for authorized distributor TTI, Inc. He is also a member of the Electronic Components Industry Association’s (ECIA) board of directors, serving as chairperson for 2012-2014. He can be reached at [email protected].