Cologne-based Alfah is typical of many smaller businesses in the automotive supply chain. A regional spare parts distributor with 12 employees, its business consists of sourcing parts from wholesalers and then selling them to small repair shops.

Until recently, the company had to check the availability of a given part by telephoning the wholesaler, with alternative parts needing to be confirmed with customers before ordering.

No longer. After participating in an innovative European Commission-funded pilot project aimed at electronically linking automotive businesses, just 20% of Alfah’s availability queries are carried out by phone, said the company’s general manager, Tilman Veltjens.

The rest are carried out electronically, through a programme designed to deliver inter-operability between the EDI systems of major automotive businesses and the currently nonconnected back office systems of small and medium-sized businesses such as Alfah.

Veltjens projected a timesaving of 60-70% compared with the previous manual enquiry process, with the new automatic process also credited with increasing the reliability of pricing and quantity information. Employees can also provide customers with immediate price and availability information.

The European Commission programme, dubbed the ‘auto-gration project’, finds its rationale in the fact that only around 20% of the total number of suppliers in the automotive supply chain are integrated through technologies such as EDI. The Commission has joined forces with a group of leading automotive organisations, including Odette International, CLEPA, Covisint, GALIA, SupplyOn and others, to launch the project.

Large, EDI-capable companies will be able to extend EDI-based business processes to smaller business partners without any change to their existing infrastructure, explained Jörg Walther, Odette programme manager and the auto-gration project manager. Meanwhile, these smaller businesses will be able to exchange data with larger companies without the complexity and the costs involved with traditional EDI.

A conference in Stuttgart, on March 15-16th 2012, will showcase the results so far to more than 200 automotive players from across Europe. Visit