Why Good Product Data Matters

Product data is more important now than ever before. Of course it's always been important. It's been the basis of all types of sales, inventory and manufacturing systems since the beginning of IT. But now, with the advent of SOA and a wide range of ever-broader business requirements, having the right product data in the right form at the right time is more important than ever before. In addition, it can't be just any product data - it has to be consistent, reliable and accurate. For most organizations, that's no easy task.

Let's take a closer look at the issue of product data reliability and business needs.

At the same time that organizations have been expanding their use of SOA, the business needs for accurate and reliable product data have expanded. Changes in online commerce, multi-channel commerce, globalization, in-store systems and even business intelligence and more sophisticated merchandising systems have all driven the need for greater accuracy and reliability from the data flowing through, and created in, an organization.

An organization's ability to use data, such as product data, effectively can have a big impact on everything from the cost of operations to an organization's ability to react quickly to market changes. Incomplete or unstructured data can prevent effective communication and reduce the effectiveness of SOA strategies.

Most organizations have product information flowing in from a wide variety of outside sources, including: supplier portals, manufacturer feeds, merchandizing information, legacy systems and much more. Frequently the data sources include hundreds and even thousands of different manufacturer feeds in different formats, describing different types of products, with a huge range of variation. "Standards" for product data depend on what type of product you're talking about. For example, resistors have a different "normalized" schema than motors or handbags-different attributes, different validations, different vocabulary, different abbreviations, etc. In order to manage product data effectively, and organizations needs to be able to address and react to all those different requirements. You also need to be able to integrate and consolidate that data in way that makes sense.

As a result, product data integration requirements are almost everywhere. Integration (and consolidation) of product data is also required for a wide variety of increasingly critical front-end and back-end functions. For example, in retail, integrated and rationalized product data is required for guided search and navigation capabilities, product data enhancement, multi-channel consistency, customer catalogs and other requirements. In distribution systems it's required for inventory consolidation, quote matching and more.

In addition, product information is mission-critical. It also tends to grow rapidly (depending on your business) and it changes constantly. As a result, most "information supply chains" within companies are choked with incomplete and unreliable data. Erroneous data that can have a dramatic effect on how quickly and accurately an organization can respond to changing market needs.

One example of how important product data management has become can be seen in the experience of a national retailer of building materials. When they went on line a few years ago, they planned on having up to 25,000 items available for sale. However, as the world has moved aggressively to the Web, they've realized that they now need to offer their entire product line, or up to 500,000 products, for sale via the Internet. Business success for them, is taking customers beyond the 25,000 items they stock in their stores and allowing them create a "virtual stock" online that provides almost endless aisles on-line. But to do that, takes better data-better product data. Feeding, cleansing, and managing the volume of product data is vastly different than from the business requirement they started with.

The more product data an organization has, and the more consistent and reliable it is, the more benefit it can deliver. For example, if you're shopping for products on the Web, you've probably noticed the new search and navigation options on many Websites, search capabilities that are driven by product characteristics-say, show me all the digital cameras that have are 5 mega-pixels, have and SD memory card and have video capture. Another example are the comparison boxes that allow you to compare two or more products. Both of these capabilties require extensive-and reliable-and consistent-product data. Data that frequently comes into an organization in many different forms, from many different suppliers, partners and outside sources. Somehow, it all needs to be consolidated in order to deliver this type of functionality.

I believe organizations need to take a closer look at their product data management practices. Over the past five years, most organizations have focused a lot of attention on consolidating customer relationship management systems and applications where customer information resides. Now it's time to move on to product data.

About the Author

David Kelly - With twenty years at the cutting edge of enterprise infrastructure, David A. Kelly is ebizQ's Community Manager for Optimizing Business/IT Management. This category includes IT governance, SOA governance,and compliance, risk management, ITIL, business service management,registries and more.

As Community Manager, David will blog and podcast to keep the ebizQ community fully informed on all the important news and breakthroughs relevant to enterprise governance. David will also be responsible for publishing press releases, taking briefings, and overseeing vendor submitted feature articles to run on ebizQ. In addition, each week, David will compile the week's most important news and views in a newsletter emailed out to ebizQ's ever-growing Governance community. David Kelly is ideally suited to be ebizQ's Governing the Infrastructure Community Manager as he has been involved with application development, project management, and product development for over twenty years. As a technology and business analyst, David has been researching, writing and speaking on governance-related topics for over a decade.

David is an expert in Web services, application development, and enterprise infrastructures. As the former Senior VP of Analyst Services at Hurwitz Group, he has extensive experience in translating the implications of new application development, deployment, and management technologies into practical recommendations for enterprise customers. He's written articles for Computerworld, Software Magazine, the New York Times, and other publications, and spoken at conferences such as Comdex, Software Development, and Internet World. With expertise ranging from application development to enterprise management to integration/B2B services to IP networking and VPNs, Kelly can help companies profit from the diversity of a changing technology landscape.

More by David A. Kelly

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