3 Tips to Avoid Product Data Management Hell

During an online discussion I received the following question from someone trying to bring sanity to their B2C catalogue:

I’m struggling to find any case studies (non system/commercial) on product data best practices.  Any ideas?

I don’t know why there is a lack of useful material on this subject.  It is not an uncommon question for anyone looking to put large amounts of data online for an ecommerce website and feeling daunted by the task.

My best guess is that, because the margins in delivering a cataloging only solution are so low, that most folks are forced to either cobble together their own solution and don’t publicize it, or they resort to one of the larger Product Information Manager solutions.  These PIM tools are feature rich and they bind up your processes and your budget for years.

If you don’t want to go a PIM route, or something similar, you can do it yourself.

The good news is that you can control costs by customizing a solution to the requirements of your business rather than following a bloated process that you don’t need or one that entangles you with a particular vendor for years.  Rely less on “domain expertise” and more on solid process analysis, project management and stakeholder communication. 

My “best-practices” tips for B2C, e-commerce product data aggregation and maintenance are the following:

1. Know the business requirements well and meet the MINIMUM requirements.  

To an outsider, managing product data looks simple. Everyone thinks they are a product data expert, everyone thinks they are a web-functionality expert, everyone can look at a web page and criticize, everyone knows you can throw data into a database or an index and get it back out again. However, the tools and processes supporting data quality (setting up and maintaining) for web based processing are expensive.

A great investment would be to map data flow from reception by the supplier through marketing’s requirements for the customer experience on the website on to finance and the data warehouse if you use one.

For each data field, ask yourself these questions:

  • How critical is the field for the current business?
  • How critical is the field for future business requirements?
  • How easy is it to get the data populated?  Who will populate it?

2. Decentralize product data handling as much as possible.  

Push as much data acquisition and exception handling to suppliers as possible.  More than likely this means MS Excel spreadsheets.  Once you’ve mapped the data above you can build a templates that include critical data fields and list standard field values if you have them.  Eventually a dedicated data acquisition and exception handling tool may be appropriate to make or buy.  If you get to this stage be cautious. Fully understand costs and process impacts.

If you must have folks build catalogues for you make sure it is based from somewhere where labor costs are low.

This step is critical.  Many companies have tried to set up their own catalogue factories which are too expensive to maintain and end up capitulating to an expensive vendor product or service. 

3. Know and consistently communicate the costs (both monetary and time costs) of process and tool change to executives and stake-holders.

Business is constantly evolving.  Your product data processes will change and hopefully improve.  If marketing wants to add a new field, know what it will cost to handle it along the entire data flow.  This will allow the decision makers to fully understand the impacts of change.

Let me know your product data management stories and challenges:

Bill Holt grew up obliviously happy in the 1950s in Springfield, Delaware County, a suburb of Philadelphia. As for many kids during the period, it seemed a time of wonderful affluence, characterized by innocent pop music, paper routes, frogs in jars, and Schwinn bicycles. In stark contrast was the emerging world of the Cold War and rock & roll, hot rods, and young-rebel movies. Despite his guileless upbringing, Holt came of age during the changing times of the early ’60s, and his latent political and musical bugs began to stir inside. 

Still, in July of 1963 at the age of 19, before he could act on his musical whims, Holt instantaneously became a husband and a father, and was forced to enter the straight world of work and responsibility to support his new family. He bought an apartment with his wife, and spent nights and weekends watching the world change before his eyes on a black-and-white television set: the assassination of President Kennedy, the emergence of the Beatles, and Vietnam. By the late ’60s, Holt also immersed himself in the ambitious pop music of the Beatles and Bob Dylan and read about experimental composers such as John Cage and about musical forms like musique concrète.

Dreamies: Auralgraphic Entertainment By early 1972, at the age of 28 and after ten years wearing a suit and working for a Fortune 500 company, he had had enough of the American dream and realized his musical calling. The next year Holt quit his job, found the same sort of Ovation acoustic guitar that he had witnessed Glen Campbell playing on TV, and bought one of the original Moog synthesizers and a four-track reel-to-reel recorder. 

Approaching 30 years of age, Holt set out to reinvent himself as a musician and composer, despite the fact that he had no prior experience writing or playing, other than strumming guitar a bit in his past. He entrenched himself in his basement and set about creating the aural collages that became the LP Dreamies, released in 1973 by Stone Theater Productions.

The album was a sensational extension of musique concrète and the Beatles’ “Revolution Number 9” (off The White Album), a pair of sonic collages that expertly incorporated sampled dialogue, sound effects, psychedelia, political commentary, and wonderful bits of melodic invention. Unfortunately, the album failed to find a public, and it also placed Holt in financial difficulty, requiring him to return to the work world he had previously given up and, thus, bypass his music. At the beginning of 2000, Gear Fab reissued Dreamies on CD.


WIKIPEDIA: In the early 1970s, Bill Holt produced a recording called “Dreamies" - a collage of songs performed on guitar and synthesizer (a Moog Sonic Six) combined with snippets of found sound. The album consists of two long tracks (originally one on each side of the record) called Program 10 and Program 11, a reference to the Beatles' Revolution #9. “Dreamies” includes excerpts of radio and television broadcasts as well as samples taken from recordings by the Beatles. It is one of the earliest examples of sampling in popular music.


BH: …After doodling a number of songs, “Sunday Morning Song” was the first song I ever wrote that seemed like a real song to me. A verse, bridge, chorus. Like something good enough for Neil Young or John Lennon. I liked it. The entire Dreamies album flows from that one song obviously. At first I was thinking maybe ten more songs like that would come along but as things turned out,  the album did finally organically construct itself from there. I liked the idea of a long collage. I read about Musique Concrète, John Cage, the avant garde composers. There was not a storyboard for Dreamies. No grand plan. More like picking up paints, drawing, drawing, until you are satisfied. Organic as you say. I like the idea of doing it in a way you a not supposed to do it. Maybe I was still rebelling from the Catholic School Fortune 500 discipline where I was always following instructions. Never making my own rules. So this was a chance to make my own rules. No record company rules, No music composition rules. My way. I never intended to make a standard album of songs. I started out knowing this would be a long collage with a “Revolution 9″ flavor but with more of everything good psychedelic pop experimental. The main thing for me was nothing like anything you ever heard before. That was the goal. To make it they way I liked to hear it. Like nothing you ever heard before but still good.

EL: So many of the sounds on the album were created by cutting and splicing tape together. Was this something you learned on the fly, or were you proficient in this skill already?

BH: No I  was not proficient at splicing. I knew about tape splicing before I started, based on my years of just tinkering with stuff. Prior to buying the Teac 3440 4-track recorder, I had a number of recording machines and reels of tapes, but I never did splicing. The Teac was my first semipro machine with 10 inch reels. That meant I had to go to a pro equipment suppliers in Philadelphia to buy 10″ tape reels. At that point I got exposed to some of the methods commercial studios used, like steel splicing blocks to hold the tape steady as you overlay the ends, the blades, the adhesive tape used to bind the splice. The diagonal cut so there is no pop. I enjoyed that end of things immensely. I quickly learned it was something a recording artist producer needed to know. Cutting and splicing was usually something reserved for final editing. Something technicians and producers might do.

I think the fact I used hand-taped cuts and splices on Dreamies as a tool for composing not just editing helped make it unique. I was always sort of a nerd with gizmos and gadgets so using those little metal cutting blocks to cut tape at the proper angle to form a popless splice was fun for me. Kind of like building a model airplane. I never did build model airplanes as a kid, but I did make radios and go-carts and stuff. When cut and paste came along with digital editing — the possibilities are endless — which in a way is a disadvantage of sorts. It’s so easy you tend to overdo it. With the old labor intensive razor blade and tape method you tended to be more economical.


Preview from video adaptation of 1973 Dreamies album featuring Sunday Morning Song

Atlanta Team Ivy Business Breakfast Networking Event

March Meeting
Small Business Access to Capital




Are you wondering what this year and the next few years portend for small businesses? Are you in the market for a business loan but aren’t sure what that market looks like? Would you like to know what can be done to increase the likelihood of accessing the capital that is available? Well, come here to hear Bill Holt speak. Bill will give us his insights on accessing capital to grow and expand your small to mid-sized business. You asked. We answered. Come hear him speak!

Click here to register


"What does it take to access money in today’s environment?"

Click here to register

Event details:
When: March 21st, 2012 7:30am - 9:00 am.
Where:  City Club of Atlanta (Buckhead)

3343 Peachtree Road
Suite 1850
Atlanta, GA 30326
(404) 442-2600
COST: $20 pre-registration, $25 after March 18th
(Parking is included).
THE ARBORETUM February 25, 2015

As early as tomorrow, the FCC will introduce “net neutrality,” treating the Internet like a public utility by prohibiting broadband companies from charging for faster “lanes” or slowing Internet speeds. Finally, no more annoying buffering for kitten videos and Kim Kardashian’s sex tape.

On the eve of the US readying a deal with Iran on its disputed nuclear program, an Iranian dissident group has accused Tehran of hiding a secret nuclear facility. Apparently, the secret facility was completely ignored by US inspectors because it was disguised as a Radio Shack.

Toronto police have found a hand-dug, 33-foot-long tunnel under the York University campus. The tunnel has electricity, a water pump, and a generator. It is also heavily reinforced with lumber and plywood because Rob Ford can be such a bull in a china shop.

More bad news for Brian Williams: NBC Nightly News has a slightly larger audience now that Lester Holt is filling in as anchor. But critics say Holt is using gimmicks to goose the ratings: Monday he did the newscast in his tighty whities, Tuesday he sang a Sound of Music medley.

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly is fighting a new accusation: He lied about hearing George de Mohrenschildt, friend of JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, shoot himself in his Florida home. Cynics say O’Reilly never heard the gunshot because he was yelling at the Mexican maid.

Chris Brown has been denied entry into Canada, forcing him to cancel concerts in Montreal and Toronto. Brown’s ban stems from his criminal record for his beating of Rihanna. But Brown says he’ll try to get back into Canada later this year, “Once the Toronto cops get outta my tunnel.”

And from the March 9, 2005 Arboretum Archives: An undercover FBI agent who infiltrated the Gambino crime family is credited with the arrests today of 32 mob figures, including John Gotti’s successor. Meryl Streep claimed it was an easy gig once she got the Brooklyn accent down.

© 2015 Towle Tompkins

Gig Guide: 28 Feb - 7 Mar 2015

* You can see James Holt at The King’s Arms in Manchester on Saturday (February 28). James is a young singer/songwriter from Manchester who creates a unique blend of folk and alternative rock. He performs all over the UK but can be seen regularly in Manchester, Liverpool, Leicestershire and Bolton. Inspired by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Miles Davies and Bill Evans, James Holt writes, records and produces all his own material.

* Aquilo will be on stage at The Deaf Institute in Manchester on Sunday (March 1). Comprising Tom Higham and Ben Fletcher, this musical duo describe their music as ‘soft calm electro-pop’.

* The Manchester Academy is the place to be on Monday (March 2) to see In This Moment. This Melodic metalcore band come from Los Angeles, and really made a name for themselves since their debut in 2005, with a worldwide record deal. Support comes from Fearless Vampire Killers, a powerful Suffolk five-piece neo-classical, goth tinted, pop/punk/metal band.

* Admiral Fallow play The Soup Kitchen in Manchester on Tuesday (March 3). This Scottish group were previously known as Brother Louis Collective. Admiral Fallow’s sets go from simple voice and guitar compositions, through stomping Wilco-esque tunes to noisy, riotous cacophonies.

* On Wednesday (March 4) you can catch Tinashe at Gorilla in Manchester. This talented singer, songwriter and performer comes from LA, and she plays distinctive R&B, punctuated with hip-hop attitude, pop, rock and swagger.

* Glass Animals will be performing at Gorilla on Thursday (March 5). A four-piece Oxford band that plays electronic music that is somehow fragile but still has enough bass to shake your internal organs.

* On Friday (March 6), Gin Pit play The Q Inn in Stalybridge from 9pm. This North West based classic rock band play covers from AC/DC, Neil Young, Sam Brown, U2, ZZ Top, Whitesnake, Muse, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osbourne, Guns n’ Roses, Free and Jimi Hendrix.

* Also on Friday, you can see Dirty/DC and The Guns N Roses Experience at The Ritz in Manchester. Dirty/DC have been playing throughout the UK and Europe since 1988 and have developed a lineup and stage show that has made their reputation seriously strong amongst AC/DC fans. GNRE’s singer delivers the exact same unique vocal style and stage show synonymous with classic Axl Rose, and their lead guitarist is a very close match to Slash in tone, look and attitude.

* The UK Top 40 Ragga Metal band Skindred will play the Manchester Apollo on Friday and Saturday (March 6 & 7). The band is currently working on a new album, scheduled to be released later this year.


ثورة Revolution from dreamies® by Bill Holt on Vimeo.

ثورة Revolution


Crazy Uncle Rudy from dreamies® by Bill Holt on Vimeo.

Rudy Giuliani