Julian Wraith

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Category: Product Management

Integrating a PIM with SDL Tridion

This is a topic that is raised with me from time to time, mostly because of my connection with a large product company that I work with on a daily basis. A colleague prompted me to write this down properly, so how do you integrate a Product Information Management system, or PIM, with SDL Tridion.

It is fair to say that SDL Tridion, like most CMS systems, is not a PIM and should not be used as one. It is a Web Content Management System and as such its purpose is to allow any organization to create, manage and publish marketing content. PIMs hold a specific type of content which is product data, they vary in what they store but almost certainly the minimum that a PIM stores is product combination or SKU. The number of SKUs an organization has will depend on the amount and type of products. Simple products, e.g. cups tend to have fewer SKUs that say laptops; but in both cases it could amount to many thousands or many millions of possible product combinations. Add to this, SKUs change over time as products are updated or changed as manufacturing parts change or just new products are added.

When looking at integrating a PIM you need to have a careful look at the content stored and how that should be used.  Additional content that could be stored in the PIM could be things like product description and this content will need to be looked at in detail. Is it needed on the website? I it translated? Is it localized? On your website you will want to present a combination of this product content and your marketing content; in different places on your website this content will vary in what the mixture is. But, overall you will want to show a uniform brand and content experience.

How you integrate this content together should be a matter of careful decisions and I will run through three simple scenarios and some basic pros and cons that will help guide that choice.

Importing Product Data into Tridion
Importing product data into Tridion should be seen as the bottom rung of choices for an integration. We assume that the PIM is the master of the product content, if we import this content there will be two copies of the same content so in this scenario we should really decide if we are going to do something with this imported content (e.g. Translation). If we are, this scenario might make sense but, if importing this PIM content into Tridion it only really makes sense if the number of products is low and the number of updates (the delta) is also low.

Pros

  • Localization and translation of product content possible from within the CMS
  • Marketing has complete control over the content presented on the environment (from a single system)

Cons

  • Content import could be complex to implement
  • Updates need to be published

Integration at publish time
Rather than importing content, we can consider the approach of merging the product content with our marketing content when it is published. For this our marketing content must be tagged or reference in some way to related it to which product it belongs. The templates then render the combination of marketing content and product content together as the pages are published to the website. To relate content to product there are two choices; 1) a product taxonomy in Tridion either created by hand or imported from the PIM or 2) a manual entry of the product ID in the content metadata either completely by hand or helped along with a lookup calling out to the PIM. I personally prefer the taxonomy approach but the automated import of a complex hierarchy will have to be thought out well in advance.

Pros

  • Great for static content websites
  • Good for when a PIM is not available directly to the websites
  • Marketing content is easily kept in sync with product content (on publish)

Cons

  • Updates to product content require a republish of both sets of content

Integration at runtime
The last major choice would be to integrate the marketing and product content at runtime. This requires use to have some application logic on our website and we’ll still need a way of linking the content we are looking at to the product; we could still use our product taxonomy idea but we could also use other ways such as URL. In essence, we do the same level of integration as we did at publish time only one stage later.

Pros

  • Possible to implement more complex website functionality (e.g. product compare)

Cons

  • Product content can get out of sync with marketing content (e.g. available colours)
  • Requires a PIM or a sub section of it, to be available directly to the website

 

Did I miss some pros or cons or another scenario completely? Let me know in the space below!

Product Camp Amsterdam

But the place which you have selected for your camp, though never so rough and grim, begins at once to have its attractions, and becomes a very centre of civilization to you: “Home is home, be it never so homely.”  ~Henry David Thoreau

Yesterday I attended Product Camp Amsterdam and had a great time. From where I live, I had to get up early but it was worth it. Being a little early as usual, it gave me chance to take in the magical Amsterdam morning. Arriving and being greeted with free t-shirts (yes, I am simple to please) and name badges, the early morning challenges began. Two problems, 1) how do you decide your first and second choice of sessions that you want to see when everything looks interesting and 2) how does the selection process _really_ work? No one could really answer the last one and someone who thought he knew, decided that he did not know by the end of our questions. In the end, I just stuck my pink & green post-its on what I thought might work for me. In the end, it worked!

The first session was Martin van Mierloo on the Lessons Learned Towards a Formal Roadmap Process at GX. GX is a Web Content Management company just down the road from where I live, so close even that I have been known to stalk them. I enjoyed the session very much and it was nice to see SDL Tridion, Day, Hippo and GX discuss the pitfalls and differences in their Roadmaps. I am not a product manager so I cannot say everything about SDL Tridion’s Roadmap process, I just have the basics, but I was interested to know from a consulting perspective how GX’s customers react to a new release once per three months. Clearly the changes are small by comparison to say Day or SDL Tridion and it makes it easier to keep up to date with the latest releases. I would be curious to know other companies release cycles and how that affects their customer’s product stability.

After this session, lunch was served (great lunch!) and a chance to chat to a few people. I chatted allot to an employee from Hewlett-Packard who is involved in the project I am working on. Interesting chat and hard to explain the coincidence of meeting randomly…

After Lunch it was off to the nest session. Jaco van Wilgenburgh: THE User Does Not Exist – Personas and Scenarios to the Rescue? I enjoyed the session very much and it led to a number of discussions about the differences between role, actor and persona – which takes too long to explain here but there is some interesting information on this page. I believe that such a process can help all parts of an organisation understand better who they are building their products for. Whilst Jaco did not mention it, I think the consulting side can also benefit by understanding the people they encounter better and how they fit into the scenario a product is designed to help.

I hope very much that 2010 will see another Product Camp in Amsterdam. It was a great day with many interesting people. Thanks to Mark Schiefelbein and the sponsors for making the day possible.

Weekend Camping

This weekend I will be going off to camp. When I was a boy, going to camp meant going to Boy Scout Camp or even Butlin’s Holiday Camp. No so this time, this is Product Camp Amsterdam. A camp in Amsterdam sounds, well, kind of interesting and this one of full of Products. Well OK, not products but Product Managers and Marketers. I am neither of those but as I spend an awful lot of my time trying to convince them to change their mind about some product feature or other, I thought I would go to the hornets’ nest, learn more about their ways and maybe even learn how to start a fire without matches – no, wait that was Boy Scout Camp.

The “Unconference” has been Unorganized by a former colleague of mine Mark Schiefelbein and I think it is an awesome idea. So awesome, over 100 other people decided to go along and join in the discussion. In attendance will be a large part of my office and an even larger number of former colleagues. So it will be a chance to catch up with them even if they all start speaking Product Speak and I lose the thread of what is going on.

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