May 23, 2002, 12:00 AM

The Source of Truth

(Page 2 of 3)

An integrated system also can feed data to invoices, making them more accurate and matching the product description on the invoice more closely to the description in the catalog, on the web or in other marketing material. That accuracy results in faster payment, Henry says. “With one customer, 10% of accounts receivable went into arrears because the product description on the invoice didn’t match the product description on the web, where the customers bought products,” he says.

Creating a single-view database is a huge project that needs direction from the top of the company and an acknowledgement that it changes the way the business operates. “Companies need to make sure there is an element of change management in the process,” says Carsten Lau, director of marketing of Pindar Systems. “That means getting people involved and making sure they understand that roles are changing.”

Who links digital data to print
A2i Inc. Los Angeles Developed from a CD-ROM publisher, main clients include distributors and manufacturers
Cardonet Inc. Santa Clara, CA Focuses on b2b catalogs
Cuesta Technologies Inc. Redwood City, CA Started as creator of information to web sites and has moved into providing data for print as well
eMarketing Inc. Scottsdale, AZ Manages digital content for web or print output; primary customers are manufacturers and distributors
Equilibrium Technologies Inc. San Rafael, CA Manages digital image presentation for web, adding an output-to-print capability mid year
Evant Solutions Inc. San Francisco Provides merchandise management solutions for retailers
MediaBin Inc. Atlanta Manages digital image presentation for web and print use, main clients are manufacturers and distributors
Pindar Systems Chicago Offshoot of European printer Pindar plc, just unveiled new Agility product, first user is Office Depot
Saqqara Systems Inc. San Jose, CA Manages digital content for web or print output; primary customers are manufacturers and distributors
Trigo Technologies Inc. Brisbane, CA Manages online catalog content, is adding a print product
Source: Virtucom Content Solutons Inc., Internet Retailer

The next step, Lau says, is to identify what he calls the power users in each department whose acceptance of the system can drive others to accept it as well. “A power user is usually middle management who’s involved hands-on but oversees the whole thing and understands how a change in one department affects the neighboring departments.”

Next, management needs to bring each person involved in creating product descriptions into the process. “You need to work with each member that touches the product process,” says Jack Harbaugh, vice president of business development at Evant. “You have to find out from all of them what their rules for data are and what they need from others in the organization.”

Once the process is in place, retailers should start small. Moving multitudes of data into a single repository can be a daunting task. Littlewoods, in fact, is undertaking the project a bite at a time. Its first combined databases will not be ready until November, a year after it made the decision to work with Pindar, and it does not expect to complete the transition until late next year. “Narrow the scope; don’t try to do all corporatewide information at one time,” Trigo Technologies’ Henry says. “Start with a product line or a division.”

Product expert

A launching point for the actual creation of the database, Henry says, is the person responsible for knowing the entire product or product line and all its attributes. “We usually find a person in every company who is the product expert,” he says. “That’s usually the brand manager or the product manager and that person knows everything there is to know about a product line or family. They are the ones who gather the information and then enrich it from their own knowledge.”

Once the information is in the database, it still requires someone to be responsible for making sure it’s correct for all uses. At Littlewoods, that responsibility falls to the catalog group. To ensure consistency between catalog and web, Littlewoods does not create web pages until catalog production managers have signed off on the catalog pages.

That then creates huge pressure on the web production side to make sure that the web sites are designed and ready by the time the catalog hits the streets. That usually entails hiring of large numbers of freelance help in design and production to meet deadlines. With the new integrated system, Littlewoods plans for the information to be in a web-ready format by the time the catalogs are completed. Typically, the e-commerce side of the business then has six weeks at the most to prepare everything. “That’s incredibly ambitious when you have 24,000 products to present,” Fleming says.

Littlewoods expects the Pindar system will streamline the process and reduce its need for temp workers. “When the program is done, the catalog team can kick it over to the EC team and they can start on it straightaway,” Fleming says. A further benefit is that if someone from the catalog side makes a change to the data, the system alerts anyone who is working on the data. “It’s more accurate and more timely and will create an improvement in productivity,” Fleming says.

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