Understanding Customers' Many Tongues - InformationWeek
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8/30/2005
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Understanding Customers' Many Tongues

Suppose you're a multi-billion dollar distributor with millions of parts in your catalog, but your customers send in quote requests in myriad formats, including XML files, spreadsheets, delimited lists and Word files. That's exactly the situation at electronics giant Avenet, which is using something called "semantics integration" to intelligently decipher the abstract communication coming from its buyers.

Suppose you're a multi-billion dollar distributor with millions of parts in your catalog, but your customers send in quote requests in myriad formats, including XML files, spreadsheets, delimited lists and Word files. That's exactly the situation at electronics giant Avenet, which is using something called "semantics integration" to intelligently decipher the abstract communication coming from its buyers.Allowing customers to communicate with you in whatever way they want is smart business. On some levels, computerization demands homogeneity. Cleanly formatted data is, after all, more easily analyzed and understood. But customers don't all talk the same, or in the same formats.

Avnet's use of semantic integration goes beyond extract, transform and load (ETL) or enterprise information integration (EII). It involves interpreting long, textual descriptions, abbreviations and a mix of descriptive attributes in either structured or semi-structured formats.

Avnet's story isn't just about interpreting a data mix that's almost as varied as customers themselves. It's also about letting customers communicate the way they want to, rather than conforming their requests to some templated format that might not allow them to convey everything to they want to communicate. It's not just about being smart. It's about being accommodating. And that's good business.

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