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Well-organized, consistent and accessible information is not only essential for ecommerce – it also serves as the lifeblood for the Internet of Things, new marketplaces and many other digital initiatives, say experts at Earley Information Science roundtable.

Detailed, accurate and comprehensive product data makes all the difference in ecommerce. By improving the quality of the data, searches are more successful, user experiences are richer and cross-selling and up-selling are more likely. That’s old news, of course.

But what many companies have not fully understood is how much more important product data has become to a new generation of online services, said a panel of experts at a recent Executive Roundtable hosted by Earley Information Science (EIS), a leading consulting firm focused on organizing information for business impact.

“Yes, the foundation of world-class commerce is world-class product data,” said Dino Eliopulos, Managing Director of EIS. “But that’s just the beginning of the picture – what you have now is an ecosystem that is driven by the initial investment in the data, giving it a life outside of ecommerce.”  

That life is playing out in countless new directions, including supporting online marketplaces, syndicating products to different partners and breaking traditional channels with things like replacement part guides and ways to provide information at the time of need, even for people who aren’t original purchasers. But perhaps the most high-profile use is with the Internet of Things (IoT) – machines wouldn’t be able to connect and have something meaningful to say without data-driven reporting, diagnostic and analytic tools. And looking ahead to other uses, augmented reality is just around the corner.  

In all these cases, the information has to remain world class by being well-organized, accessible and consistent across platforms and language barriers.  

The March 28 discussion, “Product Data: The Great Enabler for IoT, Marketplaces and More,” was led by Eliopulos, who was joined by digital marketing managers from three manufacturers: David Bonk, Senior Product Information Management Analyst at Graco, which makes fluid-handling products, like paint sprayers, pumps and industrial processing equipment; Russ Sharer, Vice President of Global Marketing and Business Development at Fulham, a lighting sub-systems company; and Luis Marcos, Digital Transformation Leader in environmental and energy solutions for Honeywell/Home & Building Technologies, Europe/Middle East/Africa.     

The panelists discussed the difficulties in creating and maintaining world-class data as well as the increasing number of benefits that can accrue.     

Unfortunately, a lot of companies are still at the crawling stage, trying to master their data and build  the platform from which they can ultimately extend the range of their business. Why is it so hard to get started?

“In crossing the bridge to digitization,” David Bonk said, “product data is often overlooked or initially undervalued – it’s kind of hard to just dip your toe in the water and take on a huge initiative like a website revamp.” His company made the commitment to invest in “future proofing our product data,” and now has a PIM (product information management) solution in place. That said, “the hardest part is collecting, aggregating and normalizing all of the data and building some governance around it across the organization,” adding that change is particularly hard when legacy systems are at play.

“Getting all the data to synchronize is really a key issue,” Russ Sharer said, offering his company’s experience as an example. “In the last 25 years, we’ve done some acquisitions, involving systems that used different formats and nomenclatures.” One organization used 12-digit part numbers, another used 20. And then there are the language challenges. Fulham has operations in China. Comparing data in Mandarin with data in English is “difficult,” Sharer said.    

Another challenge is getting buy-in. Companies have different stakeholders, Luis Marcos noted. “There is a certain investment of time to put everyone on the same page. That means working on the business case, creating awareness, making sure that everyone understands the benefits of the initiative.” 

The benefits for ecommerce are clear. “You have better navigation and you increase your product awareness and that contributes to channel growth and revenue growth,” Marcos said. 

But that’s only for starters as data initiatives multiply. “We’re going to leverage our product data for print and more effectively syndicate our data to our customers, our distributors,” David Bonk said. “We are also going to be faster to market with our products because we will have a more defined way of collecting and managing our product information.”

And some industries will use the data to redefine their mission. Because IoT applications will make it possible to understand how a given light fixture is aging, Russ Sharer explained, his industry is moving from being a “consumable-oriented business to more of a service offering,” with major implications for energy use and operating costs.

The great enabler in all of these contexts is “managing and mastering your data,” EIS’s Eliopulos said. “It’s not a separate silo.”   

The roundtable featured a real-time survey of the webinar attendees:  

  • In terms of developing world-class product information, 19% say they are at that level and 31% are rolling out master organizing models, but 25% are only at the first stages of enrichment and another 25% are not yet making any special investments.
  • Where is the value of master data? Fostering differentiation and innovation (38%), introducing new products and services (31%), supporting new channels (19%) and entering new businesses (6%). The remaining 6% say they have no apps to leverage yet.     

  • Are you extending your investment in PIM to support future business opportunities? 20% are doing that, and to great effect, and 10% have funding to start in the next year, but a big majority (70%) say they are still evaluating approaches. 

Please use these links to access the roundtable and a related article, “Analytics, Machine Learning and the Internet of Things.”

The Earley Executive Roundtable is an educational webinar series focusing on topics of interest in the areas of digital transformation and information science. Each month, EIS leads a lively discussion with a panel of industry experts.

The next roundtable is scheduled for Wednesday, April 18, at 1 p.m. ET, on “What’s New, and What’s Next, in B2B Customer Engagement.” For more information and to register click here: http://www.earley.com/training-webinars/whats-new-now-next-b2b-customer-engagement

About Earley Information Science: EIS is a specialized information agency. We support business outcomes by organizing your data – making it findable, usable and valuable. Our proven methodologies are designed specifically to address product data, content assets, customer data and corporate knowledge bases. We deliver governance-driven solutions that scale and adapt to your business as it grows. For more information, visit www.earley.com.