Last updated: What do pickup trucks and product content management have in common?

What do pickup trucks and product content management have in common?


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I once spent a summer watching two men build similar but separate cabins in a remote area of Colorado.

To save a bit of cash, the first man bought a small pickup truck capable of hauling tools and general building supplies to his build site. The second man invested in a large truck with a powerful engine, a massive bed, wench and a large ball hitch. The first man spent countless hours making multiple trips to haul supplies for the job. The second man was able to spend less time hauling and more time being productive in the building of his cabin.

As a result of the different views on investing in the right set of tools, the second man finished his cabin far in advance of the first. In addition, the total cost of his project was actually lower than that of his new neighbor.

His investment in the proper set of tools saved him time, effort and money in the long run. He ended the summer on his front porch enjoying sunrises and sunsets with the sound of his neighbor still hammering in the background.

The decision to invest in a proper Product Content Management (PCM) solution can be viewed through a similar lens. Organizations often feel their current legacy systems can adequately support the unique demands of online channels. This approach often leads to an inefficient application of resources and operational expenditures.

In addition, taking this course often leaves the enterprise with the need to conduct expensive and complex replacement projects post launch. Let’s take a minute to review some common myths regarding the ability to manage content across the enterprise.

My ERP system can do the job

Organizations often embrace the view that since their ERP holds their current SKU set, it is an adequate tool to drive the commerce platform as a product information repository system of record. This view is generally short-sighted and does not fully recognize the disparate types of content required to effectively sell online.

ERPs are generally not designed to manage unstructured marketing-focused product content, product collateral, support documentation or multi-lingual content; and are difficult to extend for up-sell and/or cross-sell relationships, promotional pricing scenarios and so on.

Attempts to drive too much product information directly out of the ERP system often end up requiring expensive customizations, inadequate product information for multi-channel selling or terribly inefficient product update processes. A strategic approach to Product Catalog Management will yield significant product data quality improvements, vastly more efficient and reliable product catalog update workflows and much improved extensibility for future enhancements.

My web content management system (WCMS) can do the job

Some organizations feel that information relative to what is sold on the web should reside in the WCM. (A bit like “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”) This approach results in valuable product information remaining captive in the web application(s).

As a consequence it becomes impossible to share vital data regarding product relationships, promotional information, documentation and so on across various channels of the organization (point of sale systems, print catalogs, in-store displays).

This approach requires an investment in time and resources to manage the disparate systems, as well as missed market opportunities due to incomplete access to robust data sets necessary to sell effectively across all channels. Simply stated, the standard WCMS is not designed to house and manage large volumes of product content. Using a WCMS in this fashion almost always results in considerable upfront customization costs and downstream maintenance costs.

We can save money by using the tools we have

When using multiple point solution systems to house enterprise data, the actual management and use of the data becomes more difficult. ERPs and WCMs are not adequately designed to support the necessary workflows and product management demands of multiple data types. This approach is a bit akin to trying to put a square peg into a round hole.

While free-standing PCM solutions are a step in the right direction, they can prove more costly in the long-run. Integrations between stand-alone PCM applications, ERP systems and commerce applications are often trying at best. They are complex, time-consuming and error prone. In addition, they provide another friction point between disparate systems and multiply the effort required when any one of the applications needs to be upgraded.

Ideally, organizations have the option of choosing solutions that embody industrial-strength PCM as a native part of the total solution. This approach is best as it ensures the web application, PCM solution and other vital systems are not only tied together, but built together.

This ensures a seamless flow of data between all systems, considerably less integration work, resulting in a more positive experience for the organization and its customers.

Modern PCM platforms also provide robust security and workflow features that help to ensure data quality and even enable suppliers to manage content themselves by working directly in the seller’s PCM.

This ability to understand and embrace this approach often requires IT organizations to reset their view on product data. Historically, the ERP was king. As the ability to serve omni-channel clients in a seamless fashion becomes paramount, we need to reevaluate how organizations store, manage and serve product data throughout the enterprise. The organizations that do so will efficiently optimize the use of content across channels and secure a competitive advantage in their respective marketplaces.

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