Poet composes cataloging option

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One of the hidden challenges of e-commerce is managing supplier catalogs. It's a tough, data-intensive task, and for many companies neither of the two most common alternatives--handling the process in-house or turning data over to an aggregator--is very appealing.

Poet Software, San Mateo, Calif., this month debuted new catalog management software it believes offers a better alternative. The vendor's new eCatalog Suite-Service Provider Edition lets Net marketplaces and application service providers offer catalog management as a service.

For suppliers--especially less technically sophisticated players--that means the simplicity of outsourced catalog management without giving up ownership and control of the data. It also holds the promise of helping suppliers connect as easily to many marketplaces as they do to a single hub.

"I definitely think it's hitting a supplier pain point," said Marilyn Muller, analyst with Summit Strategies. "The ability to manage your own catalog and port it out to multiple marketplaces is crucial."

Muller contrasted the Poet solution with catalog vendors such as Requisite Technology Inc. and Aspect Development Inc., so-called aggregators that bring together vendor content from a variety of suppliers.

"Their purpose is to keep the engine to themselves for the most part," licensing out the aggregated catalogs to marketplaces and large buyers, she said.

Mike Hogan, Poet's VP-business development, said, "We're neutral. We're not about owning the content. We focus on the creation and manipulation of structured data."

Hogan said he expects the eCatalog Suite solution to initially be popular among e-marketplaces that need to attract suppliers to their platforms. As the market matures, he expects suppliers to count less on individual marketplaces to handle their catalog management and more on independent ASPs, which should make it easier to both outsource catalog management and deliver content to multiple marketplaces, he said.

Winning customers

Poet's new catalog solution has picked up some early customer wins. Bardusch GmbH & Co. is using the platform to generate custom catalogs for the Covisint e-marketplace. Schuricht Elektronic GmbH, a European distributor of components, automation units and measuring devices, has also adopted the suite.

The Poet catalog suite lets suppliers aggregate, cleanse and customize their catalog data using nothing more than a browser. The resulting catalogs are customized for each buyer in a marketplace and are distributed in any format, including a variety of extensible markup language flavors. Small suppliers may simply upload a basic catalog. More sophisticated companies can choose a variety of ways to cleanse the data, map it to various industry codes and build sophisticated, customizable pricing schemes. The suite also provides built-in adapters for popular marketplace platforms from Ariba Inc., Commerce One Inc. and SAP.

For e-marketplaces, the easy-to-use catalog solution can help drive liquidity, attracting the necessary critical mass of suppliers necessary to make a marketplace appealing to buyers, Hogan said.

Said analyst Muller: "Market-makers need tools to help suppliers manage their content online. If companies continue to take Excel spreadsheets and Word documents and manually translate them, they are heading down a rathole."

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