EPCs: Opportunities & Challenges

The following fragment of a strategic assessment for EPCs (Electronic Parts Catalogs) focuses on the first step: identifying the questions to pursue to uncover opportunities and challenges. With this partial sample, it is clear that even a mature and settled digital solution (such as an EPC) has room to grow and deliver greater value (as well as growing and evolving threats to address).


EPCs emerged in 30 years ago (displacing nearly all paper and microfiche editions). EPCs are now viewed by many as mature, without significant prospects for growth. But this is not true – many opportunities can be found by casting a wide net and taking a strategic perspective. Below are a few observations, ideas and questions to consider.


EPC developers have a gold mine that is far from fully exploited: expertise, experience and systems to “scrub” a part number (or the set of part numbers linked to a part-code, part-type or call-out) to determine fitment at an individual vehicle level. Scrubbing processes are complex, not well understood and vary by automaker – and even by the age of the vehicle (and thus the generation of cataloging data sets) for an automaker. Scrubbing for parts fitment is needed in: wholesale and retail parts eCommerce, service pricing and service menus, in vehicle valuation and other applications. A few EPC or parts catalog companies have entered the crowded (and structurally challenging) Service Menu business – that’s one possible step. But many EPC developers have to-date surrendered the initial opportunities to broad data aggregators. EPC providers have a natural advantage that could be exploited by positioning themselves as vehicle-configuration experts (in addition to parts catalog experts) and by building a wide set of alliances with the many varied users parts filtering or vehicle configuration identification/clarification.


Another opportunity may be in online retail. How can EPC publishers allow for alternate users? How to offer a variant of an EPC (designed for trained/experienced parts department power users) with usability appropriate for consumers to accurately find all of the parts they need (without frustration)? What additional data should automakers include with catalog data sets – should parts catalogs and EPCs include shipping attributes for each part number (length, width, height, weight and hazmat status)? What are all the potential factors to consider?


An opportunity and challenge: who are the publishers of web catalogs based on data provided directly by automakers? If their core competency is online selling, are they potential partners for EPC developers or competitors? Could they successfully develop EPCs for parts specification by parts countermen?


Another opportunity and challenge for EPCs may be found in better serving the Parts Department’s single largest customer: its own Service Department. How can occasional (now usually inconvenient) use of EPC content by service advisors and service technicians be accommodated for special use cases? Are the most valuable potential service uses of parts information in narrow slices (for example, complex power train repairs)? Which possible EPC integration with service applications could prove useful – possibly improving accuracy and/or decreasing service resources consumed waiting at the parts counter or in transit? If service personnel often view their world through the lens of service/labor operations, is there an opportunity for EPC developers to provide synchronization via parts sets for some labor ops? How does this fit into DMS service applications? To what degree could service applications capture the latent values of improving parts data in service without EPC providers?


Likely the greatest opportunity (and challenge) for EPC publishers will follow from the Right-to-Repair initiative – now a legal agreement between the automakers’ representative organizations and aftermarket representatives. Will EPC publishers be able to sell more widely, will the tight restrictions on which entities can subscribe to an EPC be dropped or substantially loosened? Or will EPC publishers – or other data aggregators – provide data services to supply granular data sets for individual repairs to the market (to meet industry requirements)? Who is actively influencing the individual vehicle-manufacturers? How could other legislation, regulation or litigation impacts EPC providers? And other parts DSPs?


Above are a few issues and several questions – from select perspectives – to kick-off the process of identifying opportunities and challenges that may not be readily apparent. Engage with us to build out perspectives from other stakeholders, to identify additional questions, to clarify issues, undertake research and develop insights on mastering your challenges and opportunities.




September 2015