Digital technology is a powerful tool that can help make a business more productive and profitable, and the promotional products industry’s techies are the trendsetters and visionaries who keep it innovating. The Industry Collaborator Award, one of the PPAI Technology Awards, won jointly in 2016 by David Shultz, DistributorCentral’s vice president of operations, and Chris Schlemmer, its IT director, celebrates technological achievement by PPAI member companies that brings the industry closer together to achieve greater efficiency or collaboration

PPB Newslink recently spoke with Shultz on the award and the state of the art in the promotional products industry’s information technology.

PPB Newslink: Where do you see the future of technology going in our industry?

David Shultz: I believe that we are still in the early phase of technology adoption in this industry. Having been around long enough to have witnessed multiple technology initiatives come and go, it’s clear that we’re not an industry of first adopters. That’s not a bad thing, and frankly we’ve all been in situations where we adopted the latest and greatest technology or app only to find that it fell short in satisfying our needs. We’re fortunate to have a growing, and increasingly savvy, community of technology-focused people who are working together and focusing on initiatives that will ensure the viability of our industry. And they’re doing it the right way: research, testing and collaboration with industry peers. This gives me confidence that we’re moving in the right direction to put in place the technological foundation necessary to mitigate risk, to grow and to showcase our industry among others who have done a great job of assimilating and leveraging technology.

PPB Newslink: Has the Industry Collaborator award prompted you to collaborate with other companies in the industry?

Shultz: Absolutely. As you might guess from the name of the award, we were already collaborating with a number of industry colleagues prior to winning. However, in winning the award we solidified the notion that as a company we thrive on collaborating with industry partners, colleagues, customers and even competitors in the interest of moving this industry forward from a technological standpoint. We’ve had a surprising number of supplier and distributor customers reach out who want to partner with us to streamline their product data or order management workflow. We’re happy to be of assistance, and frankly each one of these projects teaches us something new as well, so it’s a win for everyone.

PPB Newslink: Have there been any surprising partnerships due to your collaboration experience which awarded you the Industry Collaborator award in 2016?

Shultz: Oh, yes, you’d be surprised at the conversations that occur at the bar at night during NALC, Tech Summit and other shows now that I’m on a first-name basis with most of our competitors. While the competitive ribbing is entertaining, the reality is that we’re all in this together as an industry, and when I’m working with a client I always keep in mind that they generally are also a client of our competitors due to the nature of this industry and how product and order information flows. Working with your least-likely allies in the interest of you customers is good for your customers, good for you as a company and good for this industry as a whole. So I feel like events such as Tech Summit, initiatives like PromoStandards and awards such as the Industry Collaborator show that we have embraced collaboration as an important element of our evolution as an industry.

PPB Newslink: What do you see as the biggest technology challenge our industry faces moving forward?

Shultz: There are several, but the fact that other industries tend to move quicker, have a head start (technologically speaking) and have more capital behind them are certainly threats of which we need to be aware. There are individual companies out there who do more business in one year than our entire industry; some of those companies have tangential ties to our industry that could be worrisome. Further, we continue to struggle with the velocity at which industry partners are adopting data standards and that can slow the pace at which we push our industry forward from a technological standpoint. Fortunately, because of some of the reasons I mentioned above—collaboration, research, testing and others—I’m confident that we’re moving in the right direction and beginning to gain the critical mass necessary to get us closer to the next technological paradigm shift in our industry. Just don’t ask me what that paradigm shift is yet … I’ll leave that to the futurists.

PPB Newslink: Do you have any encouraging words to the IT professionals in the industry on why they should submit a nomination for the IC award?

Shultz: Do it! Nominate your colleagues, nominate yourself, nominate a customer who has shown a propensity for collaboration. Collaboration isn’t an often-celebrated trait, but it’s an important one that has been key to our success as a company as well as being important in my own personal growth in this industry. There are a ton of people in this industry—from creatives to salespeople to technology experts to business leaders—that I’ve come to know and respect and would celebrate any opportunity to collaborate with them. Awards such as this one simply afford us an even greater opportunity to make that happen.

Take the time to nominate a techie who has done the impossible to make things possible. The PPAI Technology Awards nomination period closes May 15. The awards will be presented at the PPAI Tech Summit, to be held in Austin, Texas, August 15-17.