It was a long, rough winter in both of our home cities, which meant lots of time for indoor projects, like rebuilding our website from top to bottom. The last of the daffodils are blooming in York and the last of the snow has just melted in Chicago. It seems safe finally to open the windows, declare that it’s spring, and invite you to visit agilitymultichannel to see our all-new look and content, with lots of close-up views of Agility and a growing resource library. Everything is free-access – no forms at all. The new design and content will be rolling out to our German and French sites soon, and then we’ll be back to blogging regularly.
In this last post of 2013, a few words about symbols, and about beginnings, journeys, and shoes. Our logo was created 12 years ago with the inaugural release of Agility. The diagram below, from the original data sheet, gives an idea of how this:
grew out of this:
THE NEED: Today, managing product information and promotional content for your business is complex. Your company could be managing online as well as offline promotions; publishing in multiple languages in many countries; maintaining product data for products in a variety of different sizes and standards. Take this example, for instance: the size of men’s shoes is not the same everywhere. If you think that your shoe size is nine in North America, good luck finding a fit in France, where you should actually be looking for a size 43 or in Japan, where you are a size 27. In today’s marketplace managing one shoe SKU with its multiple size attributes in your database can turn into a headache… multiply this by your 20,000 SKUs with their multiple attributes and product descriptions and you’re heading for chaos.THE SOLUTION: Greater flexibility and scalability. Agility includes our unique EDGE technology, which gives product managers and IT teams the ability to link objects, the basic building blocks of the data structure, into an infinite variety of taxonomies to describe product assortments, digital media assets and campaign plans.
This is a good time of year to look back. As a company made up largely of people who have worked together for a very long time, it’s good to be reminded of that original intent. We’re happy to say that because we set off on the right foot and in the right direction, with the right data structure and building blocks, Agility, with the input of innovative and dedicated customers, has developed in sync with the leading edge of technological advancement. Product Information Management is no longer just an IT or product management issue. It’s central and essential to every department and stakeholder in every commercial enterprise. The company with 20,000 SKUS in 2001 now has hundreds of thousands, with more assets and attributes per product feeding into more channels than most of us could have imagined back then. But the basic idea behind that original mission statement remains true today. Shoe styles have changed, but feet are the same as ever. And it’s people after all who matter most. All of us at Agility Multichannel thank all of you for coming on this journey with us, for pushing us, challenging us, keeping us on track, and making our job a pleasure. And we wish you and your families the very best for 2014 and beyond. Cheers!
Much of the conversation around MDM of Product Data and PIM has traditionally been centered on one word: consistency. If customers don’t find consistent data – prices and savings, weights, dimensions, colors, descriptions, etc. – where ever they look (and they’re looking everywhere), they won’t be your customers for long. That’s no longer theoretical. It’s today’s baseline reality.
The day before yesterday at the Ventana Research Technology Innovation Summit (where we received a handsome award) I had the pleasure of being on a panel discussing “Next Generation Customer Engagement – Improving the Interaction and Experience.” It got me thinking and feeling excited about the path we’ve chosen for Agility®. Much of the conversation around MDM of Product Data and PIM has traditionally been centered on one word: consistency. If customers don’t find consistent data – prices and savings, weights, dimensions, colors, descriptions, etc. – where ever they look (and they’re looking everywhere), they won’t be your customers for long. That’s no longer theoretical. It’s today’s baseline reality. The discussion about consistency is settled. It’s time to look beyond. Getting past this first, critical threshold of customer engagement requires replacing multiple silos with a MDM of Product Data or PIM system that must be integrated with the supply chain, the internal ERP and merchandising system and with order management and ecommerce systems. I’m certainly not knocking consistency – where accuracy, speed-to-market and customer satisfaction matter (again, everywhere) it’s absolutely essential and must be done right. But in today’s digital environment no company (and no PIM vendor) can afford to stop there. You may be keeping up with the proliferation of channels and touch points. But are you keeping up with your customers, whose sophistication and expectations are growing apace? If not, you’re facing huge risks and missing even greater opportunities. In a world where omnichannel is replacing multichannel as a buzzword, and buying journeys are all-consuming – invading life at home, in the office, the gym, the school pick-up line… – it isn’t enough for each message received to reliably echo the one preceding it. Products, like the people who use them, have their own unique DNA. They’re consistent, yes, but in multiple dimensions. Nor are buyers’ needs and wants static. They’re dynamic; sensitive to location, time of day and many other influences. A simple illustration: a customer looking at a website from home may well search for store hours and directions, which can trigger special offers that propel them out the door. In the store, they’re fed real-time information on where to find the items they’re interested in, along with features, benefits, comparisons and related products. Studies have shown that mobile usage dominates early in the day, PC during working hours, and tablet later in the evening. Each device, each app, offers new perspective. To keep customers engaged now, product information and assets should relate, respond and complement, accordingly; structured specifically for email campaigns, websites, or tablets; for store signage or for marketplaces like Amazon. And all of this brings us back to that savvy customer, getting more and more sophisticated and discerning every day, not just about the technology but about their own wants, needs and tastes. Beyond the consistent must lie the personalized. Personalizing product data may seem mind-bogglingly complex but at Agility Multichannel we’ve long seen it coming, and we know that it can only be achieved if there’s a dynamic interaction between the product information management system and all other technologies at the core of the business. That’s why Agility® provides seamless integration with all key channel solution providers in the areas of commerce, marketplaces, campaign management, digital publishing, analytics, etc.
Interaction is where Agility excels and stands apart from the crowd. Again, this brings us right back to people. With Agility v6 and our Agility Modular Interface (AMI), every person responsible for authoring, approving, enriching and syndicating product information – vendors, merchants, product managers, content managers, et al – can view this data in context, exactly as it will appear in each channel and touch point, ensuring that it’s structured optimally, so that multidimensional view of the product can emerge for each customer, on his/her own terms. Usability is for us a driving principle. Unlike any other PIM, our interface is not just intuitive and simple to use but it can be custom configured for every individual end user. This ensures that they’re not just getting the most out of it but also putting the most into it. Our workflows, which are exquisitely easy to set up, are designed to encourage collaboration between teams, departments and stakeholders, and that’s just as important as the interaction between technologies. Your team’s engagement begets your customer’s engagement. Quality input results in quality output. Silos to consistency to personalization. The beyond is now.
Richard Hunt, President and CEO, Agility Multichannel
The photos are in from our North American eCommerce Workshop at the Willis Tower in Chicago. We shouldn’t be surprised I suppose that the view stole some focus. It was glorious. But so were all our attendees. Thanks all for coming and helping to make it a great event.
We’re back in the office today after a full day yesterday at Internet Retailing’s London conference. There were many interesting speakers, presentations and workshops, and we did manage to sneak away and catch some of them. Still, this was our home for most of the day. Lots of people stopped by, and that was great, so we’re not complaining. By the way, this event was sponsored by Demandware and, in case you missed it, just last month we were pleased to announce that we’d become one of their technology partners. Demandware Commerce clients can now implement Agility® product information management software in a fraction of the normal time. With 100% of the sophistication that comes with the simplest PIM on the planet.
We were incredibly gratified last month to learn that Ventana Research had given us their Technology Innovation Award, which honors „pioneers who have developed clear visionary and transformative technology, going above and beyond to introduce new advancements in use of technology, analytics and information.“ Ventana Research CEO and Chief Research Officer Mark Smith has written a thorough explanation of why we were singled out, and you can read that here. I’m personally grateful for the thoughtful analysis and perspective and I like every word of it. But if I had to pick two favorites they’d be “simple” and “sophisticated.” Product information management and master data management are often referred to as internal plumbing. That’s not a very sophisticated metaphor, but to push it further: if you’ve ever remodeled a bathroom, you know that, so long as you can pay for it, nothing you can dream up to do will faze your contractor in the least, except when it comes to moving the soil stack, which is not for the faint of heart. I hate to say it but that’s how PIM is too often viewed. The kind of thing you hope you’ll never have to change. But every product-centric company has to come to terms with it at some point. What usually happens is that one day it becomes impossible to ignore the fact that there are too many silos of data; that departments are duplicating tasks; that results are inconsistent; that the status quo is getting in the way of progress and growth. The pressure is building to get more products to more channels, quicker, with richer data. And that’s when someone finally decides to have a look at the plumbing. The thing every department has its own unique reasons for not wanting to mess with. Two years ago, after about 200 man/woman-years of customer-led R&D, we took stock. We felt pretty confident about our software’s functionality. And we realized that there probably wasn’t a unique customer requirement that we hadn’t seen and accommodated. But getting an entire organization, top to bottom, right to left, to sign on to a major overhaul of a central, essential process, even when their existing one is admittedly out of date and woefully inefficient? Well, that was still usually a very tough, painfully drawn-out exercise. We found that what was sorely lacking in the PIM space in general was the kind of simplicity and elegance of design that makes technology easy and even pleasurable to use. So that every stakeholder can look past the immediate challenges of remodeling the enterprise, to readily see and experience the value and benefits. We decided then to make simplicity our development mindset and company-wide mantra. We would never stop pushing ourselves to add new and improved features, but we gave ourselves the added challenge of making Agility® the simplest PIM available. Configuration, workflow, reporting, syndication to ecommerce platforms, iPad and Page Design capabilities, and so on. Every element was re-examined, re-assessed, simplified. We’re especially chuffed about our brand new Agility Modular Interface (we like to call it AMI, with a French accent) that lets every individual user in every department tailor our software according to their own needs. Choose a role and workspace, customize it with some nifty pre-built gadgets and drop-and-drag tools, and go. No need for the IT specialist. It looks good, feels good, works great, right away, no matter where you sit. And it’s something that hasn’t been done before. Managing product data, as most people reading this will understand all too well, is extremely complex. It’s touched by individuals in every department – creative, ecommerce, content managers, product managers, merchants, translators, vendors, et al; it’s enriched, approved, syndicated, designed with, and relied on for accuracy, at every level and every point of customer interaction. It has to be trustworthy and richly multidimensional. It has to smoothly flow into ecommerce and other enterprise applications and feed an ever-growing number of channels and touch points. Again, it’s inherently complex and cumbersome, and we couldn’t be prouder to have won an award for making it simple. But of course it isn’t merely simple. In the words of someone not often quoted in our trade, Leonardo da Vinci, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
And because in googling him I just stumbled upon a design he made of a flush valve toilet that in its day would certainly have been worthy of a Technology Innovation Award, and because it nicely closes the circle on all this potty talk, I’ll say no more and leave you with it here. Thanks for reading!
Richard Hunt, CEO, Agility Multichannel
Leonardo’s sketch of a valve flush toilet
We’re in the middle of our European E-Commerce Workshop in York right now. After a full day in session we had a nice dinner tonight in a 14th century dining hall and then some of us went on a ghost walk. Now everyone’s asleep, except the blogger, who’s too scared to sleep. Full workshop report and more photos coming soon.
Agility Multichannel was founded by these three in 2011. But Agility® PIM software has been around for more than ten years. And the company – previously as Pindar – has been developing, implementing, integrating and supporting product and content management and marketing solutions for over two decades. Richard and Graham have been a part of it since the beginning.
To get things started on this new blog, let’s begin with some essential background. Where. Who. What.
Agility Multichannel has two offices. One, in York, UK:
And another, in Chicago, US, up there on the sixth floor:
We have a terrific team in Bangalore, India, as well:
Our management trio: Jason Simpson, CMO; Richard Hunt, CEO; Graham Cook, CTO:
Agility Multichannel was founded by these three in 2011. But Agility® PIM software has been around for more than ten years. And the company – previously as Pindar – has been developing, implementing, integrating and supporting product and content management and marketing solutions for over two decades. Richard and Graham have been a part of it since the beginning. All together, our developers and support team have roughly a thousand man/woman years of experience. We provide some related services too. We have many customers, all over the world, and we have numerous integration and technology partners in key regions and sectors. Each year we invite everyone to gather together at user group meetings and workshops that we host in Europe and North America. They’re a great exchange of insights and ideas that we enjoy and learn a lot from.
On our website you’ll find several use cases and much more information about us and our software and about PIM and MDM for product data, in broad strokes and fine detail. From time to time we’ll be delivering some specialised content here on this blog. In the meantime, here are a few of our guiding principles and some of what we think are Agility’s superior features: We believe that in today’s multichannel marketplace, the core of trust between you and your customer lies in your product information – your „record of truth.“ And we believe that trust is an asset that can’t be overvalued. Agility drives multichannel commerce, from the initial base SKU data aggregation – from suppliers, portals, spreadsheets… – through the distribution of product information via marketing channels, to sales analysis. It tightly integrates with other enterprise systems. So data can reside in Agility or it can simply be linked there, from all sources; viewed, edited and enriched for internal use or for flawlessly consistent, multidimensional, totally trustworthy promotions and communications, through all channels and touch points, in every language and region. We’re an independent company, so our software comes with no strings (or stacks) attached. No need to scrap and replace the whole infrastructure. We’ve already said it but it bears repeating: your existing systems – for instance, your ecommerce platform – will work great with Agility. We’re here to help you leverage – not forfeit – that investment. We’re dedicated to painless implementation and expeditious ROI. Our experience doing this over decades gives us a big advantage here. We’ve learned how to get it right the first time. We’re equally dedicated to giving each individual user an elegant interface that is as simple as can be – well tailored and easy on the eye. Our long experience listening to the people who use Agility day in and day out has taught us to put this right at the top of our priorities. The continuous, collaborative work we do with any one of our customers to enhance our software is to the benefit of all. They range from fast-growth and medium-sized to Fortune 500. They have 2-2000 users; manage a single language or 40+; have 800 or millions of SKUs; access our system from a single site or from multiple locations around the world. But all of them are product-based and marketing-focused, and our PIM is an integral part of their MDM infrastructure and winning multichannel commerce strategy. We’re right there at the core, where that trust resides, and we consider it an honored position. Thanks for reading. We hope you’ll visit here again soon. You can also find us on Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Youtube, Slideshare, Vimeo, you name it. And don’t forget the phone. We also make house calls.