Digitalisation is teamwork
BY ANJA FAHS
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 4 2018)
Information is the be-all and end-all of a company’s process management. Information needs to be transferred at the right point in time in the appropriate quality and right format to the correct recipient, all while occurring in the right location. It is no wonder then that information logistics projects are challenging. They take longer when organised poorly, ending up more expensive than planned. Digitalisation in particular requires central, optimised and automated processes. Companies must now face this challenge and plan their PIM/MDM projects in a rational manner. We asked the specialists Marc Hölzle, Principal Technical Consultant, and Michael Mezger, Principal Business Consultant, from the consulting firm parsionate in Stuttgart about what advice they have for companies to successfully plan and implement a project.
What should companies bear in mind ahead of time when it comes to PIM/MDM projects?
MICHAEL MEZGER: A lot of companies think that they need to fit any requirements that could potentially arise at some point into the initial phase of the project. This is unfeasible, of course, and we always tell them that they should first take the time to define their requirements. The details for the initial phase must first be determined while taking into account the subsequent phases. This should also consider the scope of services which the PIM/MDM system is set to offer in the near future. It is unwise to launch the entire major project in one move, because if this causes the design phase to take years then you will ultimately determine that the current objective is completely different to what it was at the start of the project.
How can you guarantee that all departments and employees involved in the project pull together?
MM: Define key users across all those departments that are involved. Key users represent their area’s specific interests in the project team. Bringing the participants of a specialist department on board early in regard to processes, requirements and organisational changes creates a higher level of acceptance. It would be a strategic mistake to only incorporate users at a late stage and to present them with faits accomplis. Instead, they should determine together how a specialist department currently works and where it should be headed in future. This demonstrates the objective of the PIM/MDM introduction to the users as well as how it will benefit them. Let your users actively take part and get involved. This helps them identify with the project. And give the project participants enough time for the project. Placing the project alongside daily tasks is an impossible feat.
Do companies often struggle to say goodbye to previous systems?
MARC HÖLZLE: They often expect that everything that worked on the basis of Excel so far, as an example, will continue to work in the same manner or will require replicating. But the introduction of standard software harbours potential that can be put to much better use. I recommend being open to alternatives and using the opportunity for improvement. Tried and tested software, habitual processes, poor data quality and previously proven data models – every aspect must be analysed and evaluated while being transferred into the new processes wherever possible.
Are companies satisfied with a standard software solution? After all, ‘customising’ is one of the buzzwords of the moment…
MM: I can only recommend that companies start off with the standard. There has to be a willingness to review and adapt processes and to carefully question every exception. Always check whether there are standard measures in the PIM/MDM which can solve a problem.
MH: Replicating current processes one-to-one or in an “optimised” manner in the new system is a typical mistake made during the introduction of a central system. Standard software can only really provide significant advantages when the standard is used as much as possible. Expansions should only be made when there is no other reasonable alternative available.
Companies probably expect the new PIM/MDM to be able to do everything that didn’t work with the old system?
MH: The introduction of a central or cross-departmental solution always entails the risk of an expectation for the solution to be able to solve every problem in every department. This is incorrect, of course, as a PIM/MDM/PIM solution exclusively focuses on core data, or rather product information, and should only be used for this purpose. The functions and strengths of a PIM/MDM solutions include managing core data, consolidating data and preparing and channelling data through various channels. Attempting to take on other functions creates unnecessary complexity within the system, which is often associated with follow-up costs.
The company therefore wants to be armed with a system for any eventuality?
MH: That’s understandable, which is why they often want to keep the data model as generic and comprehensive as possible. Generic objects with abstract information and relationships are modelled instead of concrete entities. Each object is provided with the maximum quantity of generic keys. The data model is overloaded and becomes extremely complex.
MM: An attempt is made to incorporate the complete information from all systems, be it external or internal, into the data model. It is better to consider requirements in an architectural manner and to implement whatever is required here and now. Otherwise this creates an unnecessarily high level of complexity and insurmountable maintenance requirements.
What else must be taken into account during a correct planning procedure?
MH: My advice would be to not underestimate data migration. Companies have many data migration sources, but they often lack a complete overview of all the locations where core data is located. All sources require identification. Identical or similar information can often be found in various systems, and it is not always consistent. The information procurement of missing data and its manual revision takes time, therefore identify data sources and their quality at an early stage of the project. Schedule the migration of data in due time and then take the time to test it out beforehand.
Speaking of data superiority, what rules should companies take into account?
MH: Without a central system, product and core data originate in various systems and are dependent on processes. Customer data comes from different channels than product data, for example. The latter originates from suppliers when it comes to retailers, but there are also internal sources, such as marketing materials. These data flows merge during the introduction of a PIM/MDM system at the latest, which rarely occurs without conflict. This is the time to determine clear and definite data sovereignties. These can then be used in the PIM/MDM for the data from the source systems as the basis for (automatically) solving conflicts or for preventing overlaps between the systems and in the processes.
A final piece of advice: name an area of complex projects such as these where companies shouldn’t spare any expenses?
MM: In order to reduce costs, companies often merely commence the introduction of a PIM/MDM system with a pure implementation partner. The subsequent introduction to the company, training the users and user support is often neglected. It quickly becomes apparent that the internal IT team cannot set up the knowhow for the new tool quickly enough in order to take on these tasks. A drawn-out introduction phase therefore becomes inevitable, with unknown pitfalls lurking in many corners. An experienced consultation partner can be of benefit by preventing dead ends and going off track while helping to speed things along.
Michael Mezger, Principal Business Consultant, has been a Project Manager and Programme Manager for renowned top customers such as E/D/E and SportScheck for many years. He specialises in PIM, MAM and omnichannel, particularly in the retail industry.
Marc Hölzle, Principal Technical Consulting, has over 20 years of experience with project planning and the technical implementation of demanding IT projects. He specialises in providing advice on infrastructure, sizing and architecture. Marc manages parsionate’s technical consultants, always ensuring that parsionate performs highly when it comes to planning and design.parsionate GmbH
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