IBM Expands Offering For Product-Data Management

New release of WebSphere Product Center can aggregate RFID data.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

April 4, 2005

3 Min Read

Managing product information is a gap in the supply chain that major enterprise-resource-planning application vendors have overlooked, Tom Reilly, the former CEO of Trigo Technologies Inc., a startup that built software to fill the gap, asserts.

Trigo was started in 2001 to build out a product information system adopted by Unilever N.V., Corporate Express, and other large retailers. The company was profitable by the time IBM purchased it in April 2004.

Today, IBM will unveil an upgrade of Trigo's product-data-management system, now called the WebSphere Product Center 5.2, the first since the acquisition. Product Center stores parts-and-components information for a given product, but it also captures the Excel spreadsheet used to calculate pricing, the E-mail exchanges discussing potential markets, and XML documents and faxes outlining a promotional campaign, says Reilly, now an IBM VP of product-information-management strategy. The information is not only needed by the sales, marketing, and legal organizations within a company, it's needed by distributors, shippers, and other partners outside the organization, Reilly says.

"Before product management, there was no way to automate the handling of this data. Everything was done manually," he recalls. Now the category of product data management is considered an example of "multienterprise" software, he says.

By acquiring Trigo rather than developing such software itself, IBM leaped to the front of the pack as other vendors, such as catalog software suppliers, strive to match Product Center's capabilities. IBM "earned the highest scores of all vendors for both strategy and market presence," wrote Erica Rugullies, analyst with Forrester Research Inc., in a December report on the segment.

Corporate Express, the online office supply retailer, used Product Center before it was acquired by IBM. Chuck Coleman, director of product support systems says that Corporate Express was rapidly growing its business in 2001 and realized it needed to take its product information, mainly in PC Access databases and Excel spreadsheets, "to a much tighter level of information management." As he looked for systems that could help, he saw "a whole bunch of PowerPoints, very little software."

He expected a similar 10-minute exposure to Trigo, when its representatives came in from what was then a 2-year-old startup, he says. Instead, he spent 3-1/2 hours watching the software work, then had it installed in November 2001.

When Trigo was acquired in April 2004, Coleman kept a wary eye on IBM's integration of the Trigo software into the WebSphere line. But he has been reassured since then by the fact that "we're dealing with the same people" for service and support after the acquisition. At Corporate Express and other companies, product information is derived from a wide variety of sources. Trigo benefits from its integration with IBM's middleware connectors and adapters, connecting Product Center to needed information in mainframe and ERP systems, says Dan Druker, IBM director of product information management marketing.

In addition, Product Center is integrated with two other members of the WebSphere line, WebSphere Portal and WebSphere Commerce, for ease of deploying a Product Center data repository used by many different parties, Druker says.

The 5.2 release of Product Center allows radio-frequency identification information exchange between business partners. Product Center can aggregate data from WebSphere RFID Premises Server and WebSphere RFID Device Infrastructure, which collects RFID data from handheld and point-of-sale devices in distribution centers, manufacturing sites, and retail stores, Druker says.

Druker adds that better management of new product information can smooth the path to market and yield 25% more profitability for new products.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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