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Opinion

There’s a new cat on the scene

MEMA takes major stake in OptiCat LLC

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If you’ve not heard of OptiCat, you will soon.

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One of the most challenging aspects of electronic parts lookup for some time has been the need to refer to different sources. So far, to my knowledge, there hasn’t been an e-cat that’s a one-size-fits-all, i.e. a source where a counterpro can find absolutely anything — and everything — he or she needs.

In early 2009, a new entity called Free-Cat emerged and was intended to be that one-stop source. It was backed by a group of at least 26 automotive aftermarket parts suppliers. The goal was to get catalog info out there faster, more accurately and more efficiently. The more suppliers involved, the lesser the chance a parts pro would have to refer to more than one e-cat to get the information needed. One of the companies behind the technology side of that operation, U.S.-based MindQuest, will play the same role in the newly formed OptiCat. The other is Europe’s TecDoc Information Systems.

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OptiCat is intended to essentially be the upstream provider of catalog information that will feed resellers of that info. Now, the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), and its Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) segment, have become a major shareholder in OptiCat LLC. It’s believed to be the automotive aftermarket’s first supplier-owned electronic parts catalog data aggregator, reports Amy Antenora, editor of aftermarketNews.com, Counterman‘s sister publication and e-newsletter.

Brad Duncan, general manager of OptiCat, describes OptiCat as a move from a “many-to-many” process to a better “one-to-many” system.

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“We have this ‘many-to-many’ distribution problem,” Duncan told aftermarketNews.com. “Everybody is going for the same data but they are all going for it independently. So the suppliers have all gotten together and said ‘Why don’t we just accumulate it at the supplier level?’ Distributors and retailers can then get it from one spot instead of going to 300 different places. So it cuts down thaose companies’ costs significantly for data acquisition and it coordinates the effort at the manufacturer level so it’s not this ‘many-to-many’ approach, but more of a ‘one-to-many’ approach.”

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OptiCat is quickly becoming a hot topic. The merits of a supplier-driven catalog model were to be debated during a panel discussion at the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) Vision Conference 2010 just outside Chicago on March 17. (That conference will likely be over before this issue gets in your hands, but we’ll have a wrapup in the April issue.) Speakers were to be representatives of OptiCat, Federal-Mogul, Dayco, Affinia and TecDoc.

There’s an enormous amount of momentum around OptiCat. Having a central repository of information from suppliers, in the way it’s been explained, could only makes the lives of counter professional easier. With OptiCat aiming to be the upstream data supplier, the end user would continue to use the catalog to which he or she is accustomed.
The difference is the information coming out of the pipe is expected to be broader in scope, more accurate and the process less time-consuming.

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