In Part One of this series “Customers Are Webrooming Your Business: Focus on Information Supply Chain,” we discussed a particular path to purchase (for a lawnmower) to illustrate the need for quality and accurate product content to be available and consistent on all channels available to your customers. The Information Supply Chain that supports those efforts is intertwined with your physical supply chain – and as important to your company’s bottom line.

Here are two strategies to ensure that your Information Supply Chain is healthy and providing value:

Simplify Product On-Boarding with Collaborative Supplier Interactions

Think about the relationships your company has with your current suppliers and vendors. Would they say that your firm is “easy to work with”? Are you receiving complete and up-to-date product information from them promptly? Does the quality of the data that you are collecting meet your internal enterprise standards? What is the process for updating product information?

Do these questions give you heartburn?

Just as with your physical supply chain, your information supply chain relies heavily on your vendors. And, as you require quality products from your vendors, you should also require, and enable your vendors to provide you, quality content about the products they supply you.

For many companies, perhaps yours, the current process of item onboarding from suppliers is a manual one. Maybe the vendor will email a spreadsheet with their information about the product.  It might be accurate and up-to-date, or it may have duplicates, errors or missing information. Correcting these inconsistencies follows the same process as updating content after it has been published. Someone on your team exchanges emails after email with a team member from the vendor until the information is satisfactory. Then that information must be manually entered into your system and sent to other departments for manual entry into their system.

Implementing a Product Information Management (PIM) technology with a robust vendor or supplier portal and configurable workflows can alleviate the game of enterprise “TELEPHONE” that you have been playing with your precious data assets. Many existing technologies enable your suppliers to upload data directly into your system themselves, some using bulk functionality. Change management policies should be created to govern the workflows that allow members of your team to edit and approve incoming data and publish directly to all systems that need the data, including all channels. Ideally, the workflows also allow issues to be sent back to suppliers to correct data issues themselves, reducing errors caused by the old manual process and significantly speeding time-to-site.

Standardize Data Syndication and Normalization Processes

Except for heavily regulated industries like healthcare and medical devices, most companies use unique and proprietary naming conventions and data model formats for the products that they manufacture, distribute or sell. To ensure the quality of your information supply chain and present accurate content to your customers seamlessly, these inconsistencies must be addressed as part of the item onboarding process.

You may remember, or still, oversee, a team of data stewards whose responsibility was to meticulously create a cross-walk of data from spreadsheets to correctly accept a supplier’s part number and transform it to the part number that is used by your enterprise.  And, certainly, the part number, or another unique identifier, isn’t the only attribute that needs to be transformed. Often, everything from the case of an attribute value to the sequence and order of values must be changed to allow for efficient processing by your consuming systems.

As part of the item onboarding and approval process, governance policies regarding the normalization of data should be created and workflows, potentially using ETL tools, might be set up to automatically enforce those policies in real-time. Another important step to minimize any data quality errors that might get introduced during a manual normalization process is to synchronize and syndicate content with trading partners, using standards like GDSN, or with industry-specific data pools.

These strategies address minimizing data errors to provide your customers with a consistent experience across channels, including the ability to accurately display the availability of merchandise at any brick and mortar location or to correctly predict delivery dates according to stock levels at nearby distribution centers. As we discussed in the last blog post in this series, a consistent experience is just one of the things that your customers want from your commerce site.  They also want – and will reward – a differentiated experience, which we will address in Part Three of this series.