Private investment firm Comvest Partners acquires the financially troubled e-retailer, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March.
Why Hewlett-Packard decided content management is crucial to its future
When Hewlett-Packard Co. decided it needed consistent content across the company, it drew up a chart of who needed what where. The result was the proverbial spaghetti bowl organizational map of company units, regions and end users. On top of that was a daunting mix of types of content. “We were looking at structured content vs. unstructured, creation of the content vs. use, and then managing incoming content vs. outgoing content,” says Mario Queiroz, vice president of content and product data management for the e-business customer and sales operation.
Hewlett-Packard adopted a content management initiative and 18 months ago rolled out the structured content part of that initiative. This December it plans to begin implementation of Phase 1 of the unstructured content part. Getting to this point was a mammoth undertaking that required cross-organizational cooperation in an undertaking that has not been around long enough to be defined by best practices and for which no standardized, enterprise solutions exist. “Management of marketing content-the idea of putting information across an enterprise-is an immature discipline,” Queiroz says. “It’s difficult to get people with enterprisewide content management knowledge. And you can’t just go out and buy an SAP of content management.”
With a mandate that stretched across the enterprise, both divisionally and geographically, the content management teams could not have done their jobs without the Internet, Queiroz says. “The web is a very important part of how we do our work,” he says.
A marketwide problem
The challenges that Hewlett-Packard faced in standardizing content are not unique to HP. As more retailers and manufacturers adopt multiple distribution channels, they face the same challenges. These days, analysts say, content must be consistent across channels and equally available internally and externally to all users. Thus the content that a retailer creates for catalogs or newspaper inserts should be available to web customers and contact center reps. Product databases that customer service reps access when customers call in should be available on the web. The ultimate goal: “Create it once, use it many times,” Queiroz says. Achieving that goal, he notes, “allows us to scale without an equivalent growth in costs.”
No matter the size of the organization, the web has created the same conditions for smaller retailers that it has created for Hewlett-Packard. “Content defines who we are,” Queiroz says. “Most customers never touch the product before they buy.”
The only difference between the needs of small users and big operations such as Hewlett-Packard, which sells to large accounts through sales reps and to consumers and small businesses through web sites, is one of degree. “Any company that’s marketing and selling products today needs some way to manage product information,” Queiroz says. “A one- or two-person shop can probably manage it in their heads, but it’s a problem for companies any bigger than that. The need to do this is there for companies of any size.” In addition, he says, retailers can be sure their competitors are doing it.
Making buying easier
Hewlett-Packard’s goal with its content initiative was straightforward, Queiroz says: “We want to make it simpler for customers to do business with Hewlett-Packard.” HP decided there was one way to achieve that goal: “Move a critical mass of information into a single repository to make it more accurate and consistent across the enterprise,” Queiroz says.
With 30 publishers of information across the company, HP’s content was fractured. It chose to begin with structured data-for example, product specs, information about which products worked with which other products, and accessories-because that is the easiest for managers to get their hands around. “Structured content was already handled in a standard and efficient way in the company,” Queiroz says. “For instance, we already had information that said this printer driver works with this processor but not with that one.”
Creating business processes
The challenge with structured data was to create the business processes that would bring the content together in a consistent way into a single repository. Achieving that required identifying the people in the organization who knew the data and how the data should be used. Those staffers included personnel who created and managed the content, IT personnel who implemented the systems that administered the data as well as “people in the business groups who knew the products, the product hierarchy and the go-to-market strategy,” Queiroz says.
The next challenge was convincing them of the benefit of working together toward the goal of content consistency. “It was not difficult to sell the concept of creating the content once and using it many times,” Queiroz says. “But we had to spend a lot of time painting the picture of how they do their work today and how they’ll do it in the future. And there was quite a bit of internal selling to explain what the benefits are and how to achieve those benefits.” Quieroz also encourages companies undertaking content initiatives to be aware of short-term goals that can be achieved along the way. And, he adds, key to any success is “visionary CIO types who see this as important.”
It was also crucial that all be able to work together in a web environment. Using the web streamlines communications among the groups and standardizes procedures without requiring downloading of applications to PCs throughout the company. “An example of the importance of the web is in new product introductions,” Queiroz says. “We used to have to e-mail spreadsheets across the company and make a lot of phone calls. Now we put all the information in one place on the web and everyone has confidence that they’ll know where to find it.”
The content initiative serves 13,000 internal sales and marketing users and manages 1.8 million documents. The results in cost saving have been worth the effort, Queiroz says, with myriad benefits:
-- HP has reduced the cost of the content management infrastructure in both business and IT operations by 30% in 18 months;
-- The cost of new product introductions has fallen by 56%;
-- The company has increased the number of customer catalogs that it can syndicate weekly, meaning that it is easier for customers to shop with HP, by more than 1,000%;