One of the largest challenges facing the automotive aftermarket industry is the use and proper handling of large volumes of data. With thousands of vehicle configurations and even more replacement parts and accessories on the market, keeping track of everything is next to impossible. One of the main reasons for this is that auto parts stores have inventories that usually contain thousands of components and accessories available for special order. They also tend to have multiple categories of buyers and potential customers, such as repair shop owners, car dealers, and people looking to do their own repairs on their vehicles. Each of these customers will have their own preferences when it comes to ordering the auto parts they need.
One of the most important elements that differentiates the automotive aftermarket industry from all others is fitment data. With thousands of different vehicle configurations and hundreds of thousands of parts and components, fitment data helps businesses understand which components and accessories work with what vehicles. But in order for a catalog’s fitment data to be accurate, they need to adhere to the ACES and PIES industry standards. This complete guide will provide a comprehensive view of the ACES and PIES data standards, as well as how to choose an aftermarket catalog solution that will ensure your fitment data is always up-to-date.
The Auto Care Association
Before we can take a closer look at the ACES and PIES standards, we need to understand their creator, the Auto Care Association (ACA). First established in 1999, the Auto Care Association was born after the merger of the Automotive Parts and Accessories Association (APAA) and the Automotive Service Industry Association (ASIA). Previously known as the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), the ACA is a non-profit trade organization with over 3,000 members in North America and over 538,0000 automotive aftermarket companies. These businesses are spread across the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and they are involved in the entire aftermarket supply chain, from manufacture to distribution, retail, and installation of automotive parts and services.
The Auto Care Association doesn’t only promote and advance the interests of those operating in the industry but also creates and manages the ACES and PIES standards. The reason for their creation was to help industry-related organizations and their customers find the parts they need and make sure they fit their vehicles. In other words, the ACA created the ACES and PIES standards as a sort of common language for those in the industry to better communicate and interact with each other.
The ACES Exchange Standard
Also known by some as the Aftermarket Catalog Enhanced Standard, the Aftermarket Catalog Exchange Standard (ACES) is used for managing and exchanging automotive catalog applications data. Manufacturers, suppliers, or retailers will send and receive automotive product data by using industry-standard vehicle applications. This data includes details such as the year, make, and model of the vehicle, as well as more detailed information, such as part types, engine, fuel type, and more. It’s useful to know that ACES data is distributed across a couple of databases. These are as follows:
- The Vehicle Configuration Database (VCdb) – This database contains over 60,000 North American vehicle configurations that highlight the year, make, and model of each vehicle. This database is updated and maintained by the Auto Care Association approximately once per month, adding or changing the existing configurations.
- The Parts Configuration Database (PCdb) – This database, on the other hand, contains a list of all the part types and categories currently on the market. Some of these include things such as replacement parts, accessories, service items, and more. The PCdb is accessed by those in the aftermarket supply chain to easily compare different components among themselves. And as long as the catalog data is properly validated and classified, using this database will help lower the incidence of interpretation mistakes in terms of the exact capabilities, compatibilities, and functionalities of all those automotive products.
In addition to the Vehicle Configuration and Parts Configuration Databases, the ACES standard also accesses the Qualifier database (Qdb). This is a relational database that helps to standardize fitment qualifiers (terminologies) used during electronic cataloging and data searches and lookups. These terminologies are used for correctly navigating the right products, allowing trading partners to increase their speed to market, load their product information faster, and identify the right products faster and easier. Since all ACES data comes in an XML format, these ACES XML files contain information about one particular brand.
The PIES Exchange Standard
The Product Information Exchange Standard (PIES), on the other hand, is used similar to the ACES standard, but instead of tackling catalog application information, it focuses on product data management. This refers to all automotive parts, components, and accessories. PIES data also contains about 20,000 product types within 180 electronic data elements and 25 different categories. Some of the largest retailers and warehouse distributors in North America provide this PIES data to be used by others in the aftermarket industry. The data contained in the PIES XML files contains a large array of product attributes, such as product weights, sizes, kits, prices, brand ID, UPC codes, and more. The PIES standard is also governed by the Product Attribute database (PAdb).
To put it simply, this database contains product-specific attributes that describe the products’ function, form, and fit. The products’ material, color, finish, diameter, port quality, and horsepower are some examples. Likewise, the PAdb standardizes all of this product data in code. Each product classification is assigned an attribute that’s found in the Product Classification database. From here, it can be accessed by the ACES standard. Such a high level of standardization allows for this information to move quickly between business partners, across the entire supply chain.
Both ACES and PIES standards are made to be used together. For those interested in purchasing a certain part or accessory, they will first need to access ACES data to see if that component will fit the intended vehicle. If it does, they will ascertain if it will be able to fulfill all of their needs by accessing PIES data. In doing so, those in the aftermarket industry will eliminate any guesswork that goes into the part ordering process.
It’s also important to know that both ACES and PIES will need to access the Brand Table, which acts as an aftermarket brand identification database. The database in charge of the flow of messages used to locate, order, and inquire about product availability – the Internet Parts Ordering (IPO) database – also uses the brand table. The information contained in the brand table refers to brands, sub-brands, and parent company names. By using it, companies can help increase the speed to market, which makes it easier to organize and display product content in an aftermarket catalog. Also, the brand table will help reduce excessive data and category management and product mapping, as well as reduce the number of errors when representing different brands.
Misconceptions Surrounding ACES and PIES
Because of the widespread use of the ACES and PIES data standards in the automotive aftermarket industry, there have been several misconceptions attributed to them. For starters, the Auto Care Association has made it clear that neither exchange standard is an industry-wide tool that can be used to look up products or fitment information. They are not intended to be used as databases, nor do they contain any original equipment manufacturer replacement parts. While the Vehicle Configuration Database will provide vehicle IDs and other valid attributes, it will not provide any OEM part numbers of fitment data about any of the vehicle’s components.
While the two industry standards are used to maintain and exchange application and product data, the information doesn’t actually contain any fitment or product information. The ACES and PIES files are simple coded values that are used to transmit vehicle and product information among channel partners. By using the XML files to share the information, the ACES standard will translate these coded values into actual text that can, in turn, be used in the electronic catalog. Therefore, it’s obvious that the ACES and PIES data standards cannot be used as VIN number lookup tools.
What Are ACES And PIES Used For
As mentioned previously, the ACES data standard consists of the VCdb and PCdb databases. These contain information on existing vehicle configurations at a given moment. However, as newer vehicle models and car parts are being introduced onto the market, others are removed. The Auto Care Association keeps track of these changes and updates its databases accordingly every month. However, this data is not provided to the ACA by the original manufacturers. It’s the association’s researchers who look up the available information on the internet and other specialized publications. Unfortunately, there is always a chance that the data gathered will not always be completely accurate or complete.
It’s also important to keep in mind that, with time, a catalog’s fitment data can “spoil” if it isn’t properly mapped to the ongoing ACES data changes. If your fitment data is mapped to outdated vehicle configurations, it will become invalid, and all the components that are attached to it will no longer be available to those trying to look them up in your catalog. If this happens, it means that you have “holes” in your product data.
Since every aftermarket company’s fitment data represents a crucial business asset, ensuring that these holes are identified and fixed as soon as possible should be a top priority. Achieving this, however, will require coverage metrics on both vehicles and products. With these metrics, you can locate any holes in your catalog data and ensure the long-term success of your organization. Some business owners may decide to fix these issues manually, one at a time. Yet, most do not have the time, resources, or necessary know-how to achieve this task effectively and consistently. This is where auto part catalog management systems come into play.
How To Choose A Good ACES and PIES Software
Whenever you are looking for a good catalog data management software, you will need to make sure that it will provide you with enough benefits to ensure your continued success. Among the services you should look for in such a system, you will need to look for the following.
Application Fitment Management
Professional ACES and PIES data management software should, first and foremost, keep your catalog up-to-date on all the changes brought to product and vehicle definitions used to generate PIES and ACES XML files. The system should be able to evaluate your catalog data against the new standards, as well as provide solutions via easy-to-use dashboards. It also needs to provide actionable insights and customizable options on how to better map out your data. This means that you could go with a simplistic year/make/model configuration, or something more complex that also includes other technical specifications, such as engine and fuel type, body style, brand ID, etc.
A good ACES and PIES automotive catalog management system will also need to offer you a live vehicle mapping interface. This should generate immediate feedback on all available configurations that will match with your target set attributes. With new vehicle configurations being changed on a regular basis, periodic health checks also need to be performed on your catalog data. Highly intuitive interfaces capable of highlighting any issues will need to be provided. These systems should also provide you with the means of resolving these issues. Now, even if no data management system is able to resolve all fitment data that can arise, they should be able to cover most of them. The platform also needs to uncover any possible opportunities to add more data to keep you on track with all of your coverage goals.
You will also need to have access to a report format library and be able to customize these reports so that you can include the exact content you want. In addition, you should be able to set up an automatic regeneration schedule and manage the data distribution over FTP channels or email.
It’s also important to realize that catalog challenges often come in different shapes and sizes. Therefore, it’s possible that in some cases, changing individual records one at a time and with surgical precision may not be the best course of action. For some bigger jobs, you may need to be able to export your data in bulk. Such bulk/load tools will help you make broader changes to your catalog. A bulk load interface will also need to provide you with a way of adding or updating vehicle definitions and product data, like prices, interchanges, descriptions, etc., via a guided process. These systems will also need to assist you with numerous change previews and quality checks along the way. These types of bulk options are extremely effective and useful for catalog teams that have limited time and resources to handle each change by hand.
An effective aftermarket catalog software will also be able to prevent you from making any data entry errors and will make sure that all the data that you introduce into your catalog will be authored in the most consistent way possible. It will need to be fitted with all the necessary product data metrics that will make it possible for your automotive aftermarket business to check for any existing product data issues and other similar problems that may arise.
Likewise, the aftermarket catalog solution will need to take into consideration all of your branding requirements and allow for any brand-specific overrides on your PIES data elements and your target ACES data notes. By doing this, your organization will have the flexibility to create your product information based on your private label requirements and channel partner custom data demands.
Finally, your ACES and PIES software will need to provide enhanced security features for your fitment and product information. With data breaches being on the rise around the world, the last thing you need is to have your data stolen or held for ransom. Relevant security features that are able to keep your catalog data safe include things such as multi-factor authentication, DDoS Protection, antivirus and anti-malware protection, HIPAA and PCI DSS compliance, and unified threat management, among other such elements.
To put your mind at ease, Illumaware’s Evokat Premier is one such system that will provide you with all the features you need to ensure that you are always up-to-date with your application and product data. Being a cloud-based, Software as a Service (SaaS) solution, it will be easy for you to access and manage your data from anywhere there is an internet connection.
Similarly, you will not have to invest any resources in other in-house software or hardware to have Evokat Premier up and ready to go. If you need any additional information on how to handle your ACES and PIES data or are looking to implement a catalog data management system that will increase your speed to market and the number of sales, feel free to contact us at your earliest convenience.