10 December 2014

No one knows what customers expects in the future…

When you make a platform choice in the world of acronyms like PIM or MDM, I believe that you should seek to minimize your exposure to risk, and maximize the gains (create better product stories and customer experiences) for your organization. We all know that implementing large and comprehensive multi-domain platforms are always tightly linked with corresponding large risks. You can never 100% control the risks involved with implementing new platforms, but by choosing an agile, purpose-built, best-of-breed platform, you will probably minimize your exposure to the unknown risks when moving forward. You will have your agile solution faster in place, and will be much quicker in re-evaluating it and adjusting it to new market demands or to new requirements within your organization.

The only time a large multi-domain platform looks superb is on the whiteboard in the planning phase or the pre-planning phase, because you will be drawn in by the seemingly simple and false notion of having everything in one solution that handles every aspect of our business. The illusion of not needing other solutions since there is always a module and no requirements for integrations may seem comfortable. But moving into a real implementation with real requirements, and entering the real world of unknown risks that the best analytics did not know two months ago, will probably give you an extreme headache. Trying to adjust, or being agile with a large multi-domain platform will always be harder, because changing a tightly interdependent system influences all aspects of the platform and will require significantly more work than a purpose-built independent system.

“Everything is fine today, that’s our illusion”
                                                            - Voltaire

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”
                                                                      - Winston Churchill

To minimize your exposure to risks and maximize your organization’s gains, be on a flexible purpose-built platform.

-- Jimmy Ekbäck, CTO --

03 December 2014

Summary of: Polishing Up Your Products — Why PIM Really Matters

Polishing Up Your Products — Why PIM Really Matters
Telling A Consistent And Engaging Product Story Is Imperative
by Peter Sheldon
with Zia Daniell Wigder, Michele Goetz, and Rebecca Katz
summery written by Henrik Béen, CPO inRiver AB

In his latest report Forrester analyst Peter Sheldon gives his view on “why PIM really matters” and the positive effects it has on Retailer’s sales. Recent Forrester research shows that 71% of all US online shoppers actively research product information online to help them make better purchase considerations. This of course puts pressure on the retailers to provide customers with rich, relevant, and consistent product information in all channels where they what to be present. Forrester concludes:

“For decades, product data has been the lifeblood of many large enterprises. Now, in the age of the customer, eBusiness leaders and marketers are critically reliant not only on their product data, but on curated product content to provide differentiated digital experiences. Key to this objective is telling engaging stories about the products being sold; however, many online retailers, brands and industrial manufacturers lack effective tools to streamline the product content creation process needed to efficiently create high quality, consistent product content. This report explores the role that product information management (PIM) systems have to play in telling compelling and contextual product stories, the primary drivers behind the investment in these systems and the steps necessary to steer clear of the hurdles that all too often derail these programs.”

Peter Sheldon means that PIM (Product Information Management) should be seen as the “gestation engine” where products are fully enriched and where they mature to be marketed and sold. With no proper PIM strategy and without governance and control, it is very likely that you end up having a “product horror story”. In his report he highlights some key benefits from deploying a PIM system in the organization. According to Peter, with a PIM system and process in place these companies can:

·         Easily locate product information
·         Trust the information and content they do find
·         Ensure consistency across channels
·         Scale their product assortment
·         Support their product assortment
·         Support increasingly demanding channel distribution partners
·         Meet product launch deadlines

Get the full report here:

Also, you can watch a recorded webinar on the subject given by Peter Sheldon: http://inriver.com/product/resources/inriver-webinar-feat.-forrester-behind-every-product-theres-a-story-to-be-told/

18 November 2014

Optimize your got-to-market process with PIM and PLM

Today’s intense competition continues to drive companies to innovate and to launch new products and promotions faster than ever before. To support this fast-paced product development and to improve the products success rate, many companies invest in a PLM solution. It can also help to get control over the CSR-related information and make it easier to provide accurate ordering information to the suppliers. All in all a PLM-solution makes product development, engineering and purchasing much easier, speeding up innovation and new product creation.

Being faster in developing and producing new products is great, but products that collect dust on the warehouse shelf because they are waiting for texts, images and other information before they can be sold is not. This is where PIM comes in to the picture and helps to efficiently gather, enrich, translate and publish the product information to all channels and markets. As a result, it increases sales and turnover rate while reducing cost and tied-up capital.

The software industry has an abundance of three letter acronyms that can be confusing, and the often-conflicting descriptions of PIM & PLM is of course no exception. The truth is that PIM and PLM is an excellent combination where the solutions serves a different purpose, but together can be used to create the perfect information supply chain. The high-quality information that is produced when designing and purchasing products in the PLM system is exactly what the marketers need to re-use and re-purpose in the market channels. The PIM system aggregates information from the PLM and ERP systems and helps to efficiently enrich the product information with images, texts, video, documents and much more before it publishes it to all market channels.

Together, PIM and PLM greatly reduces the non value adding data maintenance, gives the users a complete overview, leads to high data quality, shortens time-to-market, creates consistency cross channels and much more. Companies that embrace the concept of PIM and PLM in combination have faster and more agile go-to-market processes, giving them the tools to be more successful and profitable than their competitors. We believe that the combination of PIM and PLM will soon become ubiquitous, but it is still time to have a heads up on your competitors.

30 September 2014

inRiver 6.0 – New UI experience

We are very excited over the next release of inRiver, due to be Beta in December, where we based on feedback from our customers are working with a new UI experience for our users, giving them better and more relevant information in their specific business roles.

The backbone of the this new UI experience is based on a user portal with relevant Role Based App:s for the specific business user and wizards helping the user in certain linear tasks and activities. This I believe is yet another step in our commitment in enabling the inRiver users to easily go from insight to action when creating the best stories for their products.

-- Jimmy Ekbäck, CTO --

09 July 2014

inRiver & information integration

Before any PIM system can become a reliable single source of product information, it must first be loaded with high-quality data. Typically the product data that should be merged into the PIM system has its origin in disparate sources such as customer requests, supplier updates, ERP systems etc. Such process should secure that the PIM system is provided with validated and structured product data, matching the defined PIM model, enabling standardization, classification, translation and de-duplication features provided by inRiver PIM.

What inRiver enables you to do is release your Marketing Model used to sell and market your products from your backend information model, used to govern your internal process (e.g ERP) which is often very hard to change or transform over time to the markets demand for information about your products. The backend information model is by definition very static since it involves complicated cross over process within a company, changing this often leads to time consuming analysis and integrations.

This is why we believe in and our customers has emphasized on the importance of:

inRiver Connect

inRiver Connect is the preferred integration point of inRiver. It is a standalone service which executes dll's with custom code.

inRiver Connect is built to consolidate different backend models ERP, PLM external data services, etc. into the inRiver Marketing Model making it easy to work with different models and content into inRiver. Since inRiver Connect acts as a broker between the backend systems and has no dependencies to those systems, this makes very easy to change the backend and continue working with your marketing content in the inRiver Marketing Model.

From this view in the inRiver administration, all inbound and outbound information is managed, making it easy to control the flow of information moving in and out of inRiver in a standardised manner. This is also where all custom integrations and plug-ins will be deployed.
From the inRiver Connect view it is possible to start and stop all services, view all events on all services and work with configurations on the services.

In order to make it as easy as possible for consuming & sending system to onboard and extract content from inRiver, the data model securing how messages should be sent and received can easily be downloaded and used a template.

inRiver Information Integration Definitions

Data hierarchies
According to the definition of PIM, the applicability of the data model to a number of aspects of the business process is one of the most important criteria for a PIM solution. Any PIM data model must be able to:
  • Model the complex relationships between the internal application sources inside the organization, business and consumer customers, as well as intermediaries and other parties
  • Map to the master product information requirements of the organization across item masters, catalogues, e-commerce and syndication requirements, and expose underlying business rules and associated metadata
  • Be customizable, configurable, extensible and upgradable
  • Support industry-specific requirements as well as multiple hierarchical and aggregated views associated with product and catalogue structures related to channels and customers
  • Provide a base for the required workload mix and level of performance
  • Support complex parametric search capabilities servicing even external Web service requests

In order to fulfil these requirements, the inRiver PIM is built from the ground up, using type information to provide media-independent persistence services for any configuration of an entity model.

In the inRiver Marketing Model, the Product holds all information that is common for all items linked to this product. The product acts as a placeholder for all the common information of all items. In order to minimise maintenance of product information and reduce risk of inconsistency, it is essential that metadata (information fields) or resources that are common to all items of a product are associated with the product and not copy/pasted on items.

Product type
A product type is merely a predefined set of dynamic fields, valid for all products of a certain product type. E.g. a company with shoes as a part of its assortment would probably define a product type shoe that at least has a size field.

An item can be described as an entity that usually has a unique bar code, e.g. a jacket with a specified colour and size. Items are typically the entities that can be ordered in e.g. a web shop (as opposed to products which typically cannot be ordered).

Resources are placeholders of e.g. images, videos or text that are related to an item or product. A typical example is a photograph of an item. The actual representations of the resources are uploaded to resource files, which are attached to the resource entity. In the case of image resources, uploaded files can be in the form of e.g. PSD, EPS, JPEG, TIFF and PNG-files.

Assortments are collections of products with or without a taxonomy/structure. Assortments  can be managed without being connected or used in a channel. This makes it easy to create generic assortment structures that can be re-used in print or in different (digital) channels, where new channel specific structures can be built and maintained for example creating a Channel Node navigation for an eCommerce site or a campaign site.

All communication channels within your inRiver, both Attracting channels (Catalogues, brand sites, campaigns, CMS etc.) and Converting channels (eCommerce, Stores, mCommerce etc,)

Nodes are collections of products with or without a taxonomy/structure specific for one or more Channels. When a Node navigation is put together, it is often channelled to several sites at the same time, necessitating a tool for generic selection. The Product Channel Manager for Channels (PCM) manages channelling to the e-channels, making it very easy to work with e-channelling - selecting and controlling what information goes to the different channels.

The possibility to create, update and delete Channel Nodes, i.e. groups consisting of products and/or items and to re-use and/or re-purpose this information makes the work with assortments & Channel Nodes faster as the work can be re-used across sales channels. 

Custom entities
In some cases there is a need to extend the standard model with custom entities and inRiver PIM supports this directly out-of-the-box. Examples of this can be an entity called ’Device’ that represents a product that is not marketed and sold, but needs suitable accessories and/or spare parts that are sold and marketed. Another example can be a ‘Printer’ entity that is not sold or marketed but its ink cartridges are.

inRiver & Product information quality

inRiver separates between data validation and Secure Information Integration. Data validation is used for inRiver users to secure the input quality of one file e.g. from a supplier and this is done in the same moment as the file is uploaded to inRiver.

It is also important to be able to validate information that is accepted into the system in a visible manner. inRiver has a logical engine that allows users to create queries for validating information.

Secure Information Integration is used when batch updates are done between communicating systems and the data integrity of Product information is of great importance. All inbound data to inRiver is secured via CVL or Controlled Vocabulary Lists which is a technique in the inRiver platform to create intelligent validating lists, maintaining, securing the data integrity and keeping the information up-to-date and correct. The lists can be maintained in the inRiver platform, or it can get the list information from other systems e.g. an ERP-system or a PDM-system.

The status of the SII (Secure Information Integration) can be reviewed in the inRiver Connect event log see below on the right.  

02 July 2014

inRiver & Channels - The story of having the right content in the right context

When building an efficient marketing engine within an organization, it is important to have the right toolbox for the marketers. The feedback our customers have given us is that what is needed is one place for the creation of the product stories, not just to store the content. They have to be creative and to be able to move from insight to action. Equally important is the context of the product story, the publishing platform, eCommerce, email marketing, WCMS, etc. that lays out the context to create the right ambience for the product stories.

So, with a digital marketing hub for the creation of the product stories and a publishing platform for the creation of the right context for the product stories; this combination will convert your products faster in all channels.

With inRiver's Channel Manager we want to enable the marketers to merchandise the assortments for the right channels not just pushing the whole product catalogue all the time. For the marketer to be efficient and able to do this they need to work a graphical user interface with an overview of the product stories and where they easily can create new assortments and channels. In a worst case scenario where the whole product catalogue is published in a non-segmented fashion the publishing platform must handle all the segmentation and faceting in its UI or even worse sometimes create code for assortment specific campaign sites, brand sites or for B2B customer portals with customer unique products. inRiver can work with several Channels with unique product assortments but still pushing to the same publishing platform, making it a lot easier and more efficient to overview and manage the Product assortments in the inRiver graphical Channel Manager. The different channels with the different assortment can then be given their unique context/layout in the publishing platform thus creating the ultimate Customer Experience.

Make it a priority that your marketers have the right tools for creating Context and Customer unique assortments and use them in different contexts.

-- Jimmy Ekbäck, CTO --

02 June 2014

The future of cross-channel campaign management

At inRiver we are preparing for a major release that will contain something that we believe will change how the industry looks at product information management in the future. In an earlier blogpost I talked about the challenges of designing an efficient workflow and why we need to focus on efficiency and automation in the marketing process. The new module, inRiver Campaign Planner, is a very good example of how useful a workflow engine can be as part of the marketer’s daily work.

For many companies, the campaign is one of the most important tools to drive cross-channel performance. However, cross-channel campaign management can be a huge challenge as it is very hard to plan and follow up on all activities in all channels and markets. This is especially the case for retailers that often have campaigns that must be consistent across many different channels like direct mail, newspaper adverts, eCommerce and in-store displays. If the campaigns are multi-market, they must also manage the translation process, and keeping track of all translations can be quite a challenge on its own.

inRiver Campaign Planner creates a single marketing view of all campaign activities and the progress of the production of all campaign-related material. It eliminates many of the workflow inefficiencies around cross-channel campaign planning and -execution. Execution is really the key word here, because the real value is always created in the execution, and not in the planning. As inRiver owns and controls the information that goes out to all on- and off-line channels, the production process becomes more efficient, and the distribution to all channels can be automated. Campaign Planner does not only help to plan campaigns, it will execute or automate all activities as well. A dashboard (see screenshot) gives an overview of the progress and puts the marketeer in full control of all ongoing activities.

It would be very hard to achieve all this with a typical stand-alone campaign planning tool, as it does not have control and ownership of the information that makes up the campaign - e.g. products, banners, images, videos and print originals. Besides bringing a whole new capability to the inRiver platform, Campaign planner is also the first of many new vertical app clients that sports a completely new user interface design. inRiver Campaign Planner will be released on June 9th together with inRiver 5.4.