Next Generation of Product Information Management Empowers Digital Business

Organizations in all industries face various difficulties in managing product information. The most serious is providing complete, engaging information to consumers and customers on the internet. Newly developed products, mergers and acquisitions, changes to pricing and promotions in online commerce spur business growth, but these factors also increase the amount and complexity of product-related data and content. In addition the digital economy offers a new generation of services that are sold by subscription and packaged in various options and price points. As well, global diversification of suppliers, customers and business partners forces organizations to manage data quality and consistency in multiple locations, currencies and languages.

Many organizations have successfullyVentanaResearch_NGPIM_BenchmarkResearch-250 implemented applications to manage manufacturing, the supply chain and other processes involved in building and shipping products, but ineffective information management hampers these processes and slows the pace at which organizations can introduce products. The rapid pace of bringing products into new channels and distributors, as well as seasonal dynamics, makes it harder to synchronize and update products in timely fashion throughout supply chains and to customer outlets.

Some organizations have attempted to address these challenges by building custom systems to integrate and distribute product information. Our previous research on product information management (PIM) found more than one-third (37%) of organizations using custom code and almost half (45%) using manual processes; both these approaches limit the adaptability and efficiency of product information management. Another complicating factor is the use of spreadsheets for PIM: One in three (34%) said they use them heavily, and almost half (46%) use them moderately. We think it is no coincidence that almost half (46%) of these organizations reported finding major errors in their product information. Thus it is not surprising that more than half (57%) said they plan to change the way they manage product information in 12 to 18 months. I have written about the current state of PIM software in a perspective on our upcoming Value Index, in which we are busy assessing the technology for 2016 and preparing guidance on vendor selection. To understand our unique methodology, please review our latest PIM Value Index.

Forward-looking organizations are deploying PIM processes and technologies to establish product information that is complete, relevant, dynamic and constantly available. They are using PIM systems to manage product relationships throughout the enterprise and improve business performance by automating cross-functional processes such as sourcing, new product introductions and electronic commerce. Using PIM technology, a company can put in place and then manage processes that make each line of business accountable for its product or item data and enforce common business practices and rules for conducting business and analyzing information. Conversely, we have found that other systems including ERP, PLM and e-commerce cannot support the full range of needs in PIM. Having a set of common definitions of product information across the organization promotes efficiency of business processes, which in turn can improve the customer experience.

Product information includes attributes and definitions specific to customers, suppliers and the enterprise. Like product-related master data management (MDM), PIM provides a way to automatically produce a complete, reliable view of all products without forcing every department and business unit to use the same application or format. For IT groups, it provides a way to ensure accuracy and consistency of data across the organization and to give all departments confidence in the reliability of the data they create, receive from and pass to other business units. But unlike product MDM, as I have written, product information management is about managing the “information supply chain,” which includes capture, assimilation, synchronization and publication. In capture and assimilation, PIM seeks to assemble complete, standardized product information from many sources (such as global data synchronization, manufacturers or content feeds). Through publication, PIM seeks to optimize information structures and content based on the downstream usage requirements of, for example, websites, catalog systems and e-commerce services.

Growing competition in online channels puts pressure on organizations to synchronize updates to product information across all channels and make it available directly for commerce and websites so that all sources agree and no information is released inadvertently (which, for example, might give competitors advance notice of product introductions, new pricing or other strategic changes). In addition, organizations that must track thousands or even millions of products or stock-keeping units (SKUs) need to reduce the burden of managing all this product information. Some are implementing new cloud-based interchanges; others are using industry standards like GDSN and GS1, and data transformation services to replace systems and routines based on older, more proprietary standards and manual code. Others are implementing MDM to improve integration of cross-functional and external information. In these ways, organizations can increase their flexibility to make changes as needed throughout the information supply chain.

To be able to provide consistent, accurate and actionable product information for consumers, customers and partners as well as throughout the supply chain, organizations must optimize the processes they use to develop and disseminate product information. Today’s businesses must manage a continually expanding variety of content and data as well as the expectations of audiences demanding comprehensive product information with a few clicks. Addressing these challenges requires unified processes and automated systems. However, our previous benchmark research on PIM found that many organizations are not up to these tasks. Fewer than one-fifth of them are innovative in their use of product information, while the large majority have plenty of room for improvement. Many organizations assign the core responsibility for PIM to the marketing function, which has its own set of challenges to deal with, as I have pointed out.

Managing product information can be difficult when industries, companies and even individuals within them use different names and attributes for the same things. Disparities often exist across departments with different orientations, including marketing, sales, commerce, the supply chain and finance. Additionally, organizations regularly add suppliers to their business networks and increase the number and variety of products they offer. Furthermore, many customers expect to be able to access product information on their mobile devices, and e-commerce introduces complexities in unifying information to invoke a purchase or recommendation. Also, product content now includes images and video linked to social ratings and comments. For all these reasons selling products and services, from business to business or to customers, requires a solid base of product information management, which I outlined in thoughts on supercharging sales and commerce.

These advances not only bring additional data into the organizations’ information systems, they often introduce new inconsistencies in how products and attributes are combined. Yet competitive pressures require that the information presented is not only up-to-date and accurate but engaging in its presentation. Organizations also need systems that enable operational processes to run uninterrupted and make timely data available for analysis and guidance in decision-making. PIM affects all lines of business and thus should be a shared responsibility across the front office and others responsible for the creation and maintenance of products and services. This means that PIM must interface to or support collaboration and workflow systems to ensure that the tasks and oversight engage all responsible individuals in the organization.

In light of these issues, it is not surprising that in our previous research the most important evaluation criterion for PIM software is adaptability, which almost half (49%) of organizations said is very important. Only one-fifth of organizations in that research said they are very satisfied with their current efforts in managing product information. To address these concerns, mature organizations embrace product processes that use PIM software to manage content and data about products, items or materials across the enterprise and for supplier networks and business-to-business (B2B) exchanges. PIM applications and tools are designed to produce and enable access to complete and reliable product records. If properly deployed, PIM systems can synchronize all the attributes and definitions used in the identification, description, marketing, sales, commerce and fulfillment of products across all channels that customers, suppliers, trading partners and employees use.

PIM can provide competitive business advantages by helping organizations address these information management issues:

  • Inconsistent product definitions in product content and data, which many organizations find difficult to improve
  • Limited feedback from customers on product information and its relevance to their purchase and use
  • Insufficient control of the flow of product information due to use of multiple applications, file systems, spreadsheets and systems dedicated to only portions of the data
  • Lack of integrated information to perform operational processes, execute workflows and provide automated data services
  • Scattered information sources for analytics and business intelligence (BI) for financial and operational analysis, in which data is incomplete, inconsistent and out of date.

In our previous research little more than one-quarter (28 percent) of organizations reported that they manage PIM as part of master data management, an approach that can help improve the consistency and quality of an organization’s data. PIM and MDM projects typically include use of tools for data discovery, profiling and quality to deepen understanding of the data, including relationships and associations between data items. Most organizations have not integrated PIM into their overall business processes to optimize use of the information, but two in five or more of those that have implemented a dedicated approach to PIM reported gaining benefits such as eliminating errors and mistakes (47%), improving cross-sell and up-sell opportunities (44%) and improving the customer experience (41%).

Against this background, Ventana Research will undertake new benchmark research to determine awareness and adoption of a new generation of product information management software that enables business and customer-focused processes that meet today’s challenges. The new research will explore organizations’ experiences with deployment of PIM systems and issues they have faced in efforts to align business and IT resources and spending with organizational information management objectives. It will examine how many organizations are operating PIM in cloud computing environments or are considering it. The research also will examine the importance of presenting such digital assets effectively on mobile devices. Those efforts often require integration of supplier and customer information, increased use of online channels and synchronization of updates to product information that may be spread across global markets.

The new research will investigate the market vr_productinfomanagement_technology_trends_for_pim_improvement_updatedperformance and maturity of organizations’ implementations of PIM and their use of or intentions for new technologies in mobility, cloud computing, collaboration, big data and interaction across social media. Our previous research found analytics, big data and mobility to be the top three technology trends for PIM improvement, and we will determine if these remain the priorities. The new research will examine how and to what extent organizations have addressed the people, process, information and technology aspects of improving data quality, integration and consistency, enabling B2B and supplier integration through online channels and service orientation, providing a single view of products, materials and attributes for business intelligence and analytics, and establishing a central resource for better control and security of product information.

Please take the survey now and let us know what your organization needs from product information management. We look forward to sharing the results of this research on an issue of primary importance for all businesses.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO and Chief Research Officer

New Generation of Enterprise Messaging Supports Digital Transformation

Enterprise messaging is the technology backbone of communications for applications and systems within and between organizations. Both its importance and its complexity are growing as organizations increasingly have to provide real-time responses to business customers and consumers as well as their own business professionals who support them and their internal supply chains. The variety of use cases for enterprise messaging also is growing rapidly, expanding to the Internet of Things (IoT) market of sensors and devices including wearable technology; to new generations of applications and services for consumers and customers; to cloud computing and the shift to platform or infrastructure as a service (PaaS or IaaS); and to real-time big data and analytics. All of these innovations will enable these types of transformation to digital business that is impacting organizations around the world.

Enterprise messaging is closely related to message-oriented middleware (MoM) technology that consumes and publishes messages as part of applications and services as well as to other middleware and integration technologies. Through acquisitions and partnerships many middleware and some integration technology providers have blended their interfaces with enterprise messaging to VentanaResearch_IoT_BenchmarkResearch-250ensure they are part of real-time networks across IT and business. As for their customers, our previous research into operational intelligence found that almost half (48%) of organizations evaluated alternatives in their messaging middleware throughout 2015. Our new research into The Internet of Things and Operational Intelligence, currently under way, is assessing the role of enterprise messaging in the changing technology landscape.

Today’s enterprise messaging is advancing beyond the design of message-oriented middleware; those queuing or brokering approaches are struggling to keep pace with millisecond and even faster transmission of data across internal and external fiber networks that in some cases needs to support guaranteed delivery like that found in financial trades and other commerce. The decades-old technology in existing enterprise messaging systems and MoM spans multiple generations of brokering and queuing approaches, a range of protocols and standards, and dozens of vendors. This technology enables exchange and transport of messages between applications and systems. The messages can be processed asynchronously or synchronously, in the publish and subscribe method and in secure encrypted formats. The variance across approaches ranges in level of latency from low to very low, which performs in subsecond times between points across a network.

In recent years the necessity of processing messages fast has placed extreme pressure on message queue and broker approaches that were not designed to meet such low latency demands or efficiently process the huge volumes of data found in the emerging generation of enterprise and consumer-focused applications and services. The diversity of these new systems challenges the most experienced enterprise architects, who have to rationalize complex legacy environments and determine where to simplify them to become more cost-effective and in some cases more secure. These challenges push many organizations to reassess their architectures for messaging and examine alternative approaches.

The middleware technology approach to messaging is challenged further by the externalization of enterprise systems from on-premises to private and public cloud computing. As middleware-related markets have consolidated, the transition to platform or infrastructure as a service has necessitated new middleware for enterprise architectures as messaging and APIs are becoming more virtual, in what is called microservices. Simultaneously, businesses demand more real-time functionality as they discover that their underlying transaction and information architectures are ineffective for rapid communications and processing of data to meet new requirements.

Reliability, performance and scalability of the messaging technology and the infrastructure and resources required to support it are focus points of re-evaluation for organizations. Part of that review involves addressing the requirement that messaging must interface to the middleware or PaaS that is being used to develop new applications. For many organizations the messaging API they use depends on the middleware they’re using for applications; it may be provided by IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Red Hat or another vendor that has a stake in binding the organization’s infrastructure to its technology. At minimum these providers influence developers to look first at the messaging that is part of their middleware or PaaS. Further complicating the issue, messaging between applications and systems is not controlled by one vendor, and depending on the history, biases or preferences of individuals and the use case, evaluations may not make it to the RFP or RFI stage. That could be risky for organizations that are not keeping up with the technological and architectural changes that have occurred.

In addition, standards often play a role in selecting technologies. One recent standard is Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP), which evolved from financial markets and operates across the wire on TCP to facilitate a robust approach to messaging. Another, Message Queue Telemetry Transport (MQTT), is being used for IoT and connecting machines to messaging on the internet. Other approaches such as Java Message Service (JMS) have gained traction through enterprise familiarity with Java and middleware such as Red Hat’s. Even the cloud computing offerings from Amazon, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle have added integrated messaging to their environment.

Architecturally, organizations are also examining microservices, which embed independent services that bind into applications, typically through an API that separates logic and communications from messaging. This technology approach provides a pattern for development and does not preclude the interface to APIs and messages that communicate with enterprise messaging.

The new focus on enterprise messaging has organizations examining their legacy approaches for messaging middleware. Users of IBM and Tibco, for example, have had to increase spending on hardware and resources to scale out and support the reliability required for their growing messaging volumes. It is no surprise that our research has found that messaging middleware is insufficient in almost one-quarter (23%) of organizations that want to use it for other applications and tools in the enterprise. This lack of overall reliability places pressure on the management and monitoring of servers to ensure that they scale adequately; many struggle to meet the requirements for very low latency and guaranteed messaging. Many organizations feel forced to re-evaluate their architecture and approach to enterprise messaging to find one that is more cost-effective, more efficient and more reliable. Some organizations are working with commercialized open source messaging approaches such as Apache ActiveMQ, RabbitMQ and StormMQ.

The next generation of enterprise messaging now in the market includes virtualized messaging across cloud-based platforms and the internet and the use of appliances and related tools for networking. Enterprise messaging appliances are attractive because they are able to handle extremely large volumes of messaging but can be managed by software already in operation at data centers and network operations centers. These appliances can be placed into the data center or hosted on the internet in a distributed computing approach. One such enterprise messaging appliance provider is Solace Systems, which has been operating its appliances for years in large global deployments. More recently IBM and Tibco introduced appliances into the market to address the shortcomings in their software-based approaches, which, as I have already mentioned, are challenging and costly for companies to maintain.

The advances in intelligent communications across devices and machines demand reliable throughput, which enterprise messaging can provide. Messaging appliances and virtualized messaging are part of the emerging future in which digital technologies operate in real time and support how consumers and business operate. I will write more about these tools in 2016. If you have not examined your organization’s messaging and infrastructure, look into enterprise messaging to better understand what you will need to be successful in the new digital business that is interconnected and happens in real time.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO and Chief Research Officer