The death of content reselling

A number of companies specialising in reselling content have been culling back their staff. What is needed is a new approach to...

A number of companies specialising in reselling content have been culling back their staff. What is needed is a new approach to industrial B2B content management.

Requisite Technology laid off 250 people, or 39 per cent of its staff, with 190 of those positions coming from its catalogue content operation in Toronto, Canada. TPN Register laid off 100 employees before ultimately disbanding. It is unclear how long i2 Technologies will be able to keep all its employees in its Infinite Content division, especially after its acquisition of ec-Content. Catalogue content intermediaries are facing hard times.

Nearly all e-procurement implementations use locally authored catalogues, and supplier catalogues accessed via punch-out are very slowly starting to gain traction. Very few users are paying content intermediaries per SKU per year to host a third-party catalogue. Ultimately, supplier-hosted content will rule the day in a Napster-like, peer-to-peer, Web-agent mediated architecture that uses standards-based registries for suppliers, product catalogues, and most importantly, the translation protocols that make them interoperable.

Content management vendors all have a role to play
Content managers can make this vision a reality, but it is not via proprietary schemas and over-hyped reference databases. What is needed is a new approach to industrial B2B content management that includes the following:

  • An open source provider for product catalogue attributes - Dun and Bradstreet (D&B) started the effort with product categories through its successful UN/SPSC standard. While by no means complete, it is a de facto standard that other content providers cross-reference. Taking this effort to the product attribute level is equivalent to the human genome product, except that the DNA needs to be agreed to by consensus, not by mere discovery. No single vendor can accomplish this in a proprietary business model.
  • Requisite Technology should position itself as the Red Hat and Rational Software of product content management - it should put its powerful Requisite Unifying Structure (RUS) product schema, and the flexible search engine rules which interrogate it, in the public domain for all to extend, enhance, and translate to.
  • Requisite would make money on selling supportable versions of the administration tool, the search engine, enterprise content extraction and cleansing tools, development toolkits, and of course, professional services. Firms like Excara, i2 Technologies, and PartMiner, which covers other product categories, should similarly enter the fray. Users seeking extensibility of their content efforts will chastise vendors who don't join.
  • Focused standards bodies - RosettaNet is a great example of how to do this within an industry, but the lessons need to be extended cross-industry. Supplier efforts such as UDDI must not whither on the vine as did the eCo Framework project, but rather be extended deep into vertical standards efforts, complete with measurable commercial pilots, as well as across the leading XML standards bodies. D&B could take a more proactive role in the open-source management of supplier registries and company categorisation - as could Thomas Publishing.
  • Liquidity - Thomas Publishing and its Thomas Register business unit could play an important role by bringing industrial mass-market volume if they could subsume the categorisation scheme and accept some much-needed help on the product attribute problem. Trading exchanges and business networks from PurchasePro, VerticalNet, Ariba, Commerce One, AOL/Netscape/iPlanet, Oracle, Peregrine, GXS, and i2 Technologies should stop battling on semantic standards, but rather on extending them into the local community and into the enterprise, using enterprise commerce to compete. In other words, agree on a language so that the best orator wins.
  • A parental kick in the pants - IBM and Microsoft have the market power to help drive these efforts - and they must. Microsoft particularly plays a key role with its .NET and BizTalk initiatives. The idea of publishing adapters for content and commerce to distributed registries is crucial to the next wave of industrial content management.
  • For users, your pain will not be alleviated anytime soon. Users need to push their incumbent vendor to embrace the standards movement, and ultimately protect the foundation they have already built developing their catalogue.

AMR provide strategic advice, research, and data on e-business applications and infrastructure technologies to help customers develop technology strategies that support business goals.

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