Managing Partner of apollon GmbH & Co. KG
Ever since the beginning of mass production, product information has been a key component of marketing. With the onset of digitisation however, it became not only more prominent but above all more diverse. Managing this complex element has increasingly been executed by PIM systems which now have developed into the next phase. Norbert Weckerle tells Temel Kahyaoglu all he needs to know about PIM 2.0.
When do you speak of PIM 2.0?
Norbert Weckerle: We speak of PIM 2.0 when there is significant added value for the customer. Just as it is important to manage publication structures independently and flexibly, we need powerful systems in workflow, digital asset management and project management controlling channels efficiently. Channels can be optimally orchestrated when all system units are cast from the same mould and the cooperation between all elements is of a seamless design. That’s how omni-channel works best.
You mention efficient channel control as an important point. Which downstream topics need to be considered in terms of omni?
N. W.: Omni above all means high-performance management of diverse channels, because speed has become more important than ever. New channels, for example those to connect marketplaces and platforms immediately, secure competitive advantages whereas selective distribution facilities increase margins. Perfect channel management, best data quality, flexible imports and exports are all crucial to the success of a company as they reduce “time to market”. Additionally, a task management for service providers including workflow support and escalation management should be a enclosed. This includes automatic picture upload via the integration of photographers, for example along with specific advertising or channel assignment among other things. A module-crossing semantic search navigation with fault tolerance ought to be included, too. Summing up: a perfect omni-channel requires high flexibility, maximum configurability access and individual and splendid integration options for each content supplier or manufacturer. In order to orchestrate all channels it also should have performant and flexible export options.
How do different marketplaces live up to expectations?
N. W.: Requirements are constantly increasing, not only in terms of quality but also in quantity. New marketplaces are emerging all around. Their possibilities as up-selling platforms need to be tested and held to account. One should also know that – to give an example – Amazon has different product data requirements than Zalando. Therefore, flexible adaptation and expansion of product attributes is highly relevant. First, the lowest common denominator has to be defined. Afterwards, standards need to be set for product pictures and photo scrolls, and fallback rules have to be developed. The result more or less will be an independent data model which leads to a technical and professional separation between e-commerce and the different marketplaces, thus creating easy and flexible management of digital platforms.
What relevance does the individual exchange of data have on content quality?
N. W.: A very large one because through the creation of easy and intuitive mappings for import sources suppliers and manufacturers become process-integrated at the same time. Every bit of product information from feeder systems – imported from content suppliers or manufacturers – saves time and cuts costs. Data modification by mapping combined with regulations can also greatly increase content quality, a fundamental aspect in terms of competitive differentiation. Therefore, flexible data imports and exports have become inevitable.
Could you name a few innovations which are already part of PIM 2.0?
N. W.: As of today, we are examining technologies that automatically generate articles, reports and other text formats: automated content creation. We use artificial intelligence, setting and maintaining of rules as well as data analysis and machine learning. Already machine-generated texts have become very difficult to distinguish from human ones. It may sound like fiction, but it is now reality. In addition to editorial copy on topics as sports, weather and finance these technologies make for excellent texts in e-commerce and other complex areas. Market research company Gartner forecasts that by 2018 more than twenty percent of economic content will be written by machines. In the future texts updates will be generated in seconds with real time where required and can be translated into many languages as well. All this of course involves process changes, but in the end they will be beneficial to the overall success of companies.
How to ensure that despite all process optimisation a customer’s individual data model design does not fall by the wayside?
N. W.: They are not mutually exclusive. Business processes need to be digitised, of course, accompanied by circumferential process optimisation and automation. Without digitisation there is no innovation of business models. If business processes are digitised everything can be correlated and combined. Information will become available in real time, so that conclusions can be drawn and reactions can follow immediately. Thus, significant cost reductions will become possible. Customised data model design is part of this process optimisation. Never rigid, but flexible and adaptable to the ever-changing needs of omni-channel marketing.
What should be part of a complete data model?
N. W.: Product information is a corporate value and a fundamental right, once communicated through multiple channels. Qualitative and complete product information is a key to marketing in different output channels. However, the data model is also a prerequisite for product searches within the shop system. It provides a basis for efficiently describing and processing product data and within a given application provides correlation. An ever-increasing number of output channels along with an increase in maintenance make data models more complex. All along it is essential to ensure media neutrality. While output channels increase, there is a risk media neutrality drops. Ideally, output channels get their product information from a central PIM system. To guarantee efficient and convenient product maintenance for information purposes it is necessary to create appropriate structures and classifications. Besides, many issues have to be considered. An essential one: what USP can take on my data model? I therefore recommend taking a close look at the competition. The eventual USP is coined together with our customers.
What technological leaps are to be expected in omni over the next five years?
N. W.: To an ever-greater extent consumers will use different channels for their purchases. Omni-channel trade has become a reality. Sales organisations have to adapt to this change in consumer behaviour. The reward is access to attractive market segments. A network of channels however has to be updated with many retailers whose stationary business and e-commerce are often off balance. We will also experience an increase of marketplaces in the coming years, and to be present on those will lead to increased brand awareness and higher sales. Ongoing digitalisation kindles an enormous data growth, and technologically this means that data needs to be available in real-time in all formats and sizes – a systemic challenge. It is also increasingly the case that structured data will meet unstructured data from Office, connected tools and social networks. Networking of devices, systems and channels combined with efficient information management – these are the challenges for the next five years.
How do you position your business to this effect?
N. W.: The enormous data growth requires more efficient data management. We are developing our Software Online Media Net to such an advanced grade that it can almost instantly and seamlessly be integrated with any other IT system within the enterprise and with the outside world. The system already enables centralised, flexible and real-time product data management, as well as it effectively addresses our customers’ customers. Now and in the future we offer tailored solutions for optimal data management and data use, combining the bandwidth of the omni-channel marketing. It would be a mistake however to inspire customers purely about technology as our focus is on business processes. The central challenge is always to advise all departments within a company to digitise, optimise and automate their processes.
Norbert Weckerle is Managing Partner with apollon GmbH & Co. KG and responsible for strategic expansion. Since 1990, he has been engaged in software development and IT solutions for the media. He trained as a publishing salesman and after studying economics worked as a consultant and project manager.
apollon GmbH & Co. KG offers integrated and comprehensive solutions in product data management, cross media publishing, omni-channel commerce and online marketing.
apollon GmbH & Co. KG
This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue Q2 2016. Picture credit © Meyle+Müller GmbH+Co. KG