Our most recent blog post addressed a common problem for OEMs that make complex equipment: dirty data. Or rather, disorganized and inconsistent data. OEMs produce large volumes of technical content, but it sits in multiple formats and often lacks a consistent product hierarchy. This is a potential stumbling block that OEMs must clear away before they can effectively compete in the aftermarket, especially on the Web. It's important because customers are looking for parts and service information online and expect to find it accurate and well-organized; if the OEM doesn’t help them find and purchase what they need, they will buy their parts elsewhere.
The obstacle to achieving “clean” data is two-fold: multiple file formats that don’t follow a consistent data scheme and lack of a consistent product hierarchy. A consistent data scheme (e.g. part numbers, quantities, alternates, inventory, locations, etc.) ensures that accurate information is properly presented to the customer. A consistent product hierarchy (e.g. product division, family, model, sub-assembly, etc.) ensures that relevant information is quickly recognized by the customer. When a customer searches for a part, procedure or service bulletin in a system built upon clean data they will quickly find the correct information.
Most companies think that data cleansing is labor-intensive and time-consuming (and sometimes it is). But it doesn’t have to be. So what can OEMs do to clean their data? Enigma regularly helps OEMs resolve their data management problems, and we’ve come up with a few suggestions worth sharing…
Step 1: Decide what you want to do with the content. Do you want to deliver the technical content to customers, to dealers, to partners or just use it internally? Do you want to print it, burn it to a DVD, put it online? Is the technical content going to be part of a customer support site or an e-commerce/parts-buying process?
Step 2: Understand the data formats. Is the data stored in a consistent format (Manuals: SGML, XML, PDF, Word, scanned, paper; Parts: RDB, PDF tables, Excel, scanned, paper; Images: JPEG, CGM, SVG, scanned, paper)? For each data format and document type, is the information presented according to a consistent scheme (tasks, sub-tasks, assemblies, parts, naming conventions, numbering conventions, etc.)?
Step 3: Determine where the content is currently stored. Is all the data in one place? Do you have a document management system? Is any of the information in a PLM system, ERP system or relational database? Do you have illustrations for the parts and assemblies? What about schematics and wiring diagrams? Is any of the information in paper format?
Step 4: Decide which content is important. Based on what you would like to deliver, ask yourself if all the information needs to be cleansed? (Bear in mind that the time and cost needed to clean the data is dependent on both complexity and volume; in general, the more data you have, especially old data, the higher the cost.) How often is each type of content used (i.e. rarely or daily)?
Step 5: Develop a realistic approach. While most companies want to clean all technical content, such an approach may be cost-prohibitive. Assuming that the goal is to put service and parts information on the Web, content that is rarely used (e.g. old service bulletins) can remain in a relatively static format like PDF and may only need to be tagged for easy location, whereas content that is used frequently or changes regularly (e.g. parts lists, pricing and inventory) may need to be converted.
Step 6: Organize the content. After determining how each content type and format needs to be cleansed, it is useful to organize the content based on the supported products. Do you have a product structure for your models/equipment (e.g. product division, family, model, sub-assembly, accessories, kits, etc.)? Do you categorize or name the supporting documents based on a product structure? Once organized, technical content will still consist of many data types and file formats (including paper) but it will be easier to understand and ready for cleansing.
Step 7: Follow a strategic but tactical cleansing sequence. Because content cleansing can sometimes be slow and expensive, it’s important to show progress and value throughout the process. While it may seem like the most efficient approach is to fully cleanse each data type and then move on (i.e. all parts, all manuals, all images), that may not be the best choice. Doing so will force you to wait until all the content is cleansed before having anything to show for the effort. It may be better to plan the cleansing process according to product type (based on cost-benefit analysis) and use a progressive roll-out to the Web. (This allows customers, dealers, partners and internal management to quickly see the fruits of your labor.)
Step 8: Push the publish button. Enigma solves the problem of delivering aftermarket parts and service information to the Web or direct to dealers and customers, via the Enigma InService EPC application. Furthermore, Enigma ties that technical content into e-commerce, ERP, inventory and customer support systems to provide a fully integrated and automated aftermarket environment. However, as with any complex process the better (cleaner) the input data, the better the results.
In next week’s blog post we’ll address the specific approach to structuring and delivering parts catalog information and supplemental documentation to the Web, so check back here to learn more.