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to left, to sign on to a major overhaul of a central, essential process, even when their existing one is admittedly out of date and woefully inefficient?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