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May 8, 2013

Agility Multichannel Briefs the Hub Designs MDM Think Tank

by Dan Power
Agility Multichannel Logo

Agility Multichannel delivers an in-depth briefing on Agility® 5.2.

The Hub Designs MDM Think Tank met with several executives from Agility Multichannel – Richard Hunt, CEO, Graham Cook, CTO, Gene Maggard, SVP of Global Technical Sales, and Stephen Golembiewski, Principal Field Consultant, for an in-depth briefing on Agility® 5.2, the latest version of their product information management solution.

Agility Multichannel defines its mission as helping clients in the business-to-business, retail, and manufacturing environments to be more effective in communicating with their customers. They recognize that no customer journey through the buying process is the same, and most do not reach the end. They stated the aim of the software is to deliver compelling, consistent product information across all channels and buying stages in order to improve customer satisfaction and increase conversions.

Example of Two Buying Journeys

Of all of the channels for publishing up-to-date product information, a company’s web site is probably the most important, so Agility provides lots of different means to publish data to a web site or an e-commerce site.

The next channels they support are printed catalogs and brochures, which are still very popular in support of the buying process. Other print publishing capabilities include flyers and ads.

On the digital side, Agility can output to iPads and tablets, and can support e-mail campaigns with current, accurate, consistent product information. It can also provide updates to in-store point of sales systems and call centers.

And the product can also support campaigns for smartphones, social networking sites and product comparison sites.

Agility supports multiple languages and multiple versions of product information.

From the company’s perspective, it sees a number of problems with most companies’ environment(s) for handling product information:

  • Siloed processes which lead to inconsistent product information being provided to customers
  • Repetition of product content management tasks increases workload on company staff
  • Not enough depth and detail to the product information being provided to customers
  • No single view of analytics on product information for decision making
  • Lack of support for cross sell/up-sell in individual channels and across channels
  • Multiple, manual approval processes leading to long “new product introduction” processes
  • Disjointed, long lead time preparing products for market

All of this can result in lost sales, reduced customer satisfaction, and inefficient processes.

There are four areas that Agility attempts to address through what it calls “PIM for Agile Commerce”:

(1) Master data management for products – consolidating and coordinating information from internal source systems such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and from external sources such as suppliers. Agility offers integration via Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), XML import/export functionality, a Content Gateway, support for various ETL tools, and an Excel plug-in, as well as a Supplier/Vendor Portal.

(2) Agility provides a wide range of support for the “product journey” that has to be managed by a product manager or merchandiser. “Gadgets” for tasks such as browsing, searching, editing, previewing and analyzing product performance can be grouped into “workspaces” that are appropriate to different roles within the company. This allows product managers to quickly locate, view and enrich a product or series of products with additional attribute data and assets, and create up-sell and cross-sell opportunities and subsequently approve the product for the next state in the workflow. Agility is strong on content management, and it tracks all of the digital assets created for a particular product – digital photographs, portable document format (PDF) files, digital movies, Office documents, etc.

(3) The next area addressed by Agility is marketing communications and content syndication, which the company refers to as “template-driven commerce”. A particular product and its associated content can be edited as needed, then sent for approval within the context and style of the selected channel.

So the team can use the core product information developed in the “product journey” to publish information to web sites and e-commerce platforms, comparison sites, e-mail campaigns, social networks and smartphones. Providing a single place for content to be managed, across all of a company’s products and marketing channels, removes the silo-based approach to managing product data. Preventing inconsistency across channels protects the company’s brand.

(4) The final area is what Agility Multichannel calls “design-driven commerce” – basically integrating tightly with a design program such as Adobe InDesign, which pulls product information into a design environment that can produce various artifacts. These include materials for stores and call centers, iPads and other tablets, flyers, ads, catalogs and brochures.

Agility Multichannel provided a great overview of the benefits of a single product information repository. The application can manage all aspects of product information, supporting the editing and maintenance process typically owned by a product manager or merchandiser, and publishing through both a template-driven approach (creating feeds that can easily be used by downstream applications) and a design-driven approach, supporting more creative and varied layouts.

The company has a vision of becoming the “de facto” choice for product information management. It hasn’t made any move yet towards becoming a multidomain MDM solution, preferring to remain focused on improving its functionality for product information management (PIM).

Agility’s customer base is split roughly 50/50 between Europe and North America, and it works with 10 channel partners to deliver its solutions. Growing its base of channel partners is a big focus for the company over the next few years.

The product has strong support for product taxonomies, and supports a best practice of having the product classification drive its attribution. In other words, the attributes for a product vary by what kind of product it is. A product can exist within several classifications or hierarchies, and the application can provide security down to the attribute level.

Agility has a very flexible, object-based data model, and supports both Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server as its database management system. The product has built-in workflow support and provides queues for issues that have been routed to data stewards for resolution.

Here is a view of the product’s high-level architecture:

Agility High Level Architecture

From an integration perspective, Agility offers many upstream and downstream options, as depicted in this diagram:

Agility Integration Overview

One interesting capability of the product is the ability to publish a series of products and their corresponding pictures and specifications to the Apple iTunes store in the form of an app. So companies can quickly and easily reach the world’s largest and ever-growing “digital marketplace” with their products.

We were impressed with Agility Multichannel’s innovative approach to product MDM, with its emphasis on collaborative authoring and workflow, and the many target channels, platforms and applications it supports. The company clearly has some stiff competition out there in the PIM and product MDM market, but I think their message will resonate with many customers in the business-to-business, retail, and manufacturing industries. The number of creative tools and digital publishing mechanisms is distinctive, beyond what we’ve seen from other solutions in the PIM / product MDM space.

Dan Power is the publisher of Hub Designs Magazine, and the Founder & President of Hub Designs, a leading consulting firm specializing in master data management (MDM) and information governance. He can be reached via http://hubdesigns.com/contact_us.html

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