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How to create consistent product experiences

I came across McKinsey’s article about the importance of consistency in customer experience. I couldn’t agree more. I have been studying customer experiences from the product experience point of view. Way too often companies focus on creating a great customer experience on a single customer touchpoint but don’t pay too much attention to ten others.

I guess it is very natural that this should happen. After all, companies are usually organised in such a way that different people (and quite often different functions) oversee product experiences in different channels, even within sales and marketing: an ad agency creates content for social media, marketing creates product content for the website, product organisation creates product data sheets and the sales make their own PowerPoint presentations. In this setup, it is very unlikely that the product experience will be consistent across all the sales channels.

I believe the reason why consistency is not appreciated so much in companies is humane. First, consistency sounds boring and secondly, it requires a process that people from different sides of the organisation are willing to stick to. In other words, it requires management. Luckily, there is a technology that can help us there. It is called Product Information Management, PIM in short.

In Product Information Management people from different sides of the organisation maintain all the product related information in a common system called PIM. From PIM, the product information is published to all the sales channels that need it. The product master data in PIM may come from ERP or other such system which is used in internal processes, but PIM is used as a common platform to enrich product data to be used in all the customer touchpoints.

In PIM: ad agencies can add the copy text to promote the products, marketing can add product marketing texts, product organisation can maintain all the technical details and sales can bring in their input from the field. This is beginning to sound like collaboration, isn’t it? And the outcome of this way of working is consistent customer experience. Worth a try, don’t you think?

And as for being boring, I would argue that too. I can think of nothing more boring than copy-pasting content from one place to another. With PIM you can get rid of that altogether. Once you have shared your product information in PIM, it is available for automated publishing in all the sales channels that might need it without any copy-pasting.

Vision of a CIO: Kill ’em all!

I recently had an interesting conversation with an information management officer from a medium-sized Finnish company. He had joined the company around a year earlier, and it seemed like the strategic work on enterprise architecture had been completed and the roadmap for systems architecture was beginning to be clear. Moderate-scale modernisation, renovation, and systems updates expected within the next three years. Or four years –

these plans always overrun a little bit.

The guy’s vision for 2020 was music to a well-marinated PIM consultant’s ears. Paraphrasing liberally, the goal is an updated, modern architecture where master data and its related processes have been put in order, information flows according to API thinking, and communication with customers, at the highest possible level, is allowed using information resources and automation.

From our nice and straightforward chat, one quip stuck in my mind.

So my aim here is to kill around 16 systems, leaving only 5 or 6 systems instead. In the spirit of Metallica: Kill ’em All!

Excitement in the air and brains in overdrive – great vibes! Extra points for getting the favourite band from our youth mixed into the same pot with business applications, interfaces and data. I also got the feeling that it might be fun to work with them in the future.

After the meeting, however, I got to thinking about today’s challenges in leadership in information management. Though if any topic has been written about at length and from different perspectives, it is this one. And in Finland we have some really solid know-how, recognized at an international level too (take IT Standard for Business as a single example).

But right now I couldn’t stop contemplating the Metallica approach.

The remaining 5-6 systems specified by the CIO are, of course, main systems critical to business activities. They own the basic information associated with each system. In this case, they also include a platform for e-commerce that, among other things, will be used to run future online trading of different business units.

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This is the basis on which business and core processes operate. Master data is managed and cared for using best practice, and modern interfaces deliver it to the right place at the right time. Using BI and analytics tools, valuable information is produced to support decision-making so that operations can be developed in the right direction and that leadership can be based on knowledge, not guesswork.

Then there is the layer that is full of the pulp of tools and applications, and the boundaries of which are irritatingly mushy.

Business wants to develop customer experience and communication, online commerce and sales toolbox – let alone marketing digi-gizmos. All this as agilely as possible, please. At the same time costs need to be kept under control and activities need to become more efficient.

In turn, people, regardless of unit and role description, wish to use tools that are quick to learn and easy and efficient to use. Perfectly natural. If this is not realized, problems tend to get piled on the desks of data governors and information management.

How should this ever-growing and shape-shifting tangle of applications, utility programs, and cloud services be managed? Who is responsilbe for what? Who even knows what apps we have in use, and for what purposes? Which is the right model for us: the ’Master of Apps’ or ’…And Apps for All’? What information is used where? Is some place producing information that is valuable from a business point of view and which should be linked to a process or analytics? And so on…

By the way, I am not jealous of today’s CIOs.

I am also not surprised that there is a worldwide race to invent new titles and roles to manage these areas, as one man/woman shows have not been sufficient in a long time.

It would be interesting to hear real-life examples of what practices you have in place for depicting applications and information flows. Are there, or have you come across, any good ready-made models, or have you developed or drawn ones for your own needs? Leave a comment or send a private message. I would gladly exchange views on this.

Next time I was planning to open up and explain how I have tended to structure, from a product information management and digital development perspective, an information architecture framework that addresses the requirements of today. I suggest that nobody holds their breath waiting for that though, as a suggestion entitled ’Mushroom gathering trip to the forests of Nuuksio’ hit my inbox while I was writing this. Have a nice fall!