A new version of IBM's WebSphere Product Center middleware should help companies manage their product databases better. One company is already using its "master data management" abilities to create one version of a massive database of car parts.
Master data management is the managing of data attributes that best describe a particular product or customer, according to Paraic Sweeney, vice president of product information management with IBM. Determining such attributes can help customers improve the quality of their core data, cutting down on any errors and out-of-date or duplicated information.
WebSphere Product Center (WPC) 5.3 is product information management software that assists users in developing and managing a central repository of master data information. The new version includes a Java API (application programming interface) and Web services that can be layered on top of the middleware to facilitate integration with SOA (service oriented architecture) applications. The software also comes with better search capabilities and improved product location management. The new features let users quickly find product information specific to a particular region or store, Sweeney said.
Auto parts retailer Carquest is in the early stages of implementing WPC, currently working with IBM to define, collect, cleanse and configure the master data to be captured in the repository.
"We're on a quest to have one version of the truth," said Joe Zucchero, senior vice president and chief information officer of Carquest, based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Master data about the 800,000 auto parts in its 3,400 stores is scattered across Carquest's IT systems, according to Zucchero. The data, sometimes duplicated, is contained in a variety of software including "homegrown software, Access databases and Excel spreadsheets," he said.
Carquest wants to implement SOA and it's important for the organisation to have a single instance of each piece of data for that deployment, Zucchero added. As part of the move to SOA, the company is looking to establish systems of record, with WPC to provide the parts systems of record, he said.
Key master data about a specific auto part includes what year, make, model and engine of car it fits and whether the component can be used in any automobile.
IBM acquired the technology behind WPC in 2004 with the purchase of a business partner Trigo Technologies, which had a product information management offering called Product Center. IBM rebranded the Trigo software as a WebSphere product, bringing out version 5.2 last year. Another IBM master data management module, WebSphere Customer Center, is based on technology the vendor acquired last year when it bought data integration software company DWL.
WPC customers are "in the hundreds," according to Sweeney, mostly in North America and Europe, particularly France, Germany, Spain and the UK. Users include Best Buy, Circuit City, John Lewis and Tesco. IBM has projects under way in Asia, notably in Australia and South Korea, he added.