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  • Writer's picturePhil Clark

How the Embedded Directory grew by 3000 suppliers

The Embedded Directory is a labour of love for me, that is bordering on an obsession. For the last 5 years I have been trying to find a good way to simplify the complexity of the IT business to make it more accessible - and, trust me, it’s not an easy task. I’ve blogged before about the combinations and permutations of Vendors, Channel Partners, technology types and categories, and different commercial and business models… trying to get this organised is a nightmare. Way more complex than I originally thought!

Initially, my strategy had been to focus on defining a structure and the skills we needed to get the information together, and in a consistent form. The first couple of iterations of the Directory were primarily focussed on testing the structure, some of which worked and some of which did not, to ensure we had a solid foundation for growth. The Data Structure, looking at the mapping between technology Vendor and the reseller community, is fairly simple on paper, but when you weave in accreditation levels, distribution and different service models - it can get quite nasty. So, we kept it simple, and in mid-2019 we settled on the data model foundation that the current version of the Directory is built upon. The next challenge we faced, however, was scale. With such a complex proposition, getting people to understand and subscribe to it was difficult. Without scale however, it delivers no benefit. Not enough supplier coverage makes it pointless for potential buyers, and not enough buyer projects makes it pointless for suppliers. Somehow, we needed to inject the momentum to get it going. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing since Christmas. The Embedded Network I am extremely lucky to be surrounded by some very lovely, very clever mates, who have remarkable patience when it comes to my hair brain schemes and can convert my outside-the-box ideas to something tangible. I understand the marketplace, the structure, the buying process, the selling process and the hierarchy of interfaces, but tend to get carried away blurting this out to the detriment of clarity. My developers and researchers work closely with me throughout the process and act as a sounding board for new ideas, and the end result has been very interesting. We started by defining a process by which a potential buyer would buy technology.

They would:

a) Define what they wanted (requirement) at a technical or functional level b) Look at the market to identify suppliers with this capability c) Look at these suppliers to try and find appropriate attributes to engage d) Engage and start a dialogue e) Eventually after some toing and froing, sign a contract with the best supplier

To support this, a supplier needs to be able to articulate its attributes. We defined these attributes as Location, Size, Industry Focus and References and Service capability (are they just a reseller or do they offer hosted / cloud services?). Structurally, we can consistently record and objectively compare these to create a score (we call this a “match”), leveraging buyer information to determine the best supplier for that specific buyer. This vital information is difficult to retrieve by simply looking online. A google search only gives you some information, and the web is so diluted that it becomes a nightmare to sift through. So, what if we defined a process that did this sifting for our prospective buyers, and served it up to make their life easier? Well. That’s when the magic happened.

Arise the birth of Matchbox - our automated supplier profiling process. We developed, using Automation and Natural Language Processing, a method of taking a supplier’s website and identifying their location, capabilities, accreditations and size (net asset value) using publicly available services, and consolidated into our Directory Structure. We identified a list of UK IT Suppliers that we could point it at, and pulled the trigger.

To give you a sense of scale, we have a list of 6,000 IT Suppliers across the full spectrum of location, capability and business model. We have a list of 750 technology vendors, and about 1000 core accreditations (across Quality, Industry and Technology certification processes). Across these suppliers, there are approximately 6 million web pages, equating to about 60Gb of content. Reading this much content is not for the fainthearted… and doing this from home during a pandemic enforced Lockdown was... interesting. For the geeks amongst you, making MongoDB work under Docker on Windows, with a Python interface, without sharding the db (made us nervous), but leveraging multi-threading where we could was the most ‘interesting’ part... Some of the core information was API based, so making multiple calls in this method was great fun – especially whilst sharing bandwidth with two young boys playing Xbox, two older daughters on Netflix, and a wife on iPlayer listening to the Archers….. The joys of lockdown. So after about 4 weeks of processing and a lot of late nights tinkering with code, we now have coverage of 6,000 suppliers on the Embedded Directory. Not all of them are subscribers, or have formally validated their entry, but they have been processed according to Embedded IT’s analysing of their capabilities based on what’s on their website, and other online sources. Feedback so far has reassured us that our process works. The aggregated data views are quite incredible, and we’ll be sharing the BI stats on our social channels in the coming weeks. Make sure you connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter. So what next? We’ve established that more data points are required, so we will be integrating those over the coming months. Financial, Quality and Risk measures will be pulled together, as well as other key information (that is a ball ache to find!) available on the web. We are also expanding the supplier base with more companies throughout the rest of the year, and our aim is to cover as many of the 150,000 UK IT suppliers by Christmas, if anything to prove that I can.

And why is this important? I’m creating a map. A map that has been required for a number of years. It is a map to help Buyers find Channel Partners, Channel Partners find other Channel Partners, Buyers find Technology Vendors, Vendors find Channel Partners and all the other combinations you can think of. It will evolve to be a single source for everyone to collaborate more effectively, and will eventually be complemented with analyst views, news feeds, and other useful insight to drive efficiency in interactions between the millions on moving parts we have in our way over complex industry. Join the Embedded Directory network today and help me build that map:

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