IBM unveils Product Information Management tool
- By John K. Waters
IBM is harvesting the fruits of its April 2004 acquisition of Trigo Technologies in the form of new middleware designed to help businesses better track, manage and control product information. The company has unveiled IBM WebSphere Product Center Version 5, which is designed to help users develop a central repository of product information that is synchronized with internal systems and shared across supply chains.
Dan Druker, director of product information management solutions in IBM's Software Group, who joined the company as part of the Trigo acquisition, calls the new offering a product information manager (a label that will have to share the "PIM" acronym with personal information managers). Druker told eADT that Trigo began working on software for managing the process of bringing new products to market five years ago.
"There simply was nothing in place to manage the process, to manage information about products comprehensively," he said. "We saw a greenfield opportunity, and that was the business problem we set out to solve."
In a typical company, Druker said, the information needed to bring products to market is scattered across the enterprise. He estimates that about 5% resides in ERP systems, but the bulk is not stored in any kind of software. "Most of it is in spreadsheets and desktop files, written on papers and in people's heads."
Druker called the essentially manual process of coordinating that information to bring a product to market a "black art" performed by "human middleware."
Enter WebSphere Product Center Version 5. With Trigo's contribution, the product is designed to allow customers to manage and link product, trading partner, location, organization, pricing and promotion information.
For example, large global businesses can use Product Center to consolidate product information from multiple legacy systems and then categorize hundreds of thousands of product attributes. The idea is to improve how information is handled throughout an organization, making it easier for users to access data and to reduce errors, redundant data and manual processes.
IBM is clearly aiming for a range of high-end customers with this product. According to the company, it "contains significant new technology to help improve productivity and performance in global implementations that involve thousands of users, millions of products, thousands of attributes per product and billions of attribute values such as color, weight, flavor and price."
"The new features in Web Sphere Product Center Version 5 are all about managing big systems," Druker said. "It's all about helping customers manage and be successful in the world's largest deployments. These are customers with millions of products, who interact with tens of thousands of trading partners and are accessed by very large trading communities."
Although no customer names were available at press time, Druker said that the smallest current user is a "$100 million manufacturer of industrial products," and the largest is a "$130 billion global retailer."
The list of new features in Product Center Version 5 include productivity enhancers for system administrators, features for improved user experience and increased productivity for large user communities, and greater scalability for on-demand computing, according to the company.
IBM also unveiled a roadmap for integrating Product Center into its other products. A new set of "cross-company initiatives" will link Product Center with IBM WebSphere Commerce, IBM WebSphere Portal and IBM's RFID middleware. Industry watchers have said that the data synchronization piece, which links disparate product data in warehouses to back-end corporate information systems, will play a critical role in completing the RFID picture.
The company also plans to integrate Product Center capabilities with IBM offerings for employee and trading-partner portals, as well as IBM's vertical offerings for global data synchronization, consumer-driven supply chains and enterprise data management (mainly in the retail, distribution, consumer products and manufacturing sectors), the company said. IBM said at the time of its acquisition of Trigo that the company's technology would help Big Blue to create industry-specific versions of its middleware products.
Version 5 of the Product Center comes with the WebSphere Application Server, DB2 Information Integrator, WebSphere Business Integration MQ Series and Adapter for MQ at no extra charge.
IBM WebSphere Product Center Version 5 is available today. Pricing starts at $300,000.
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached