Executives in one of Newell Rubbermaid Inc.'s commercial products division took months to convince corporate headquarters that Los Angeles-based A2i Inc.'s xCat product management tool would help synchronize thousands of products and in turn save the company money.
Executives at headquarters weren't ready to steer away from its own proprietary software. But after much wrangling, the division was given the nod for its project, which went live in 2003. No one at the division knew that SAP would eventually buy the product, said Joe DeZarn, who inherited the project in his role as director of marketing and communications at Rubbermaid Commercial Products.
"SAP was not at all in the picture," said DeZarn, who serves as master data coordinator in the division. "This xCat database looked far more robust and flexible and had a far better long term future than the product corporate was promoting."
In fact, times have changed at Rubbermaid. The company is in the middle of a complete migration to SAP and plans call for the commercial products division to go online by 2007.
Today, SAP ditched its early internal development of Master Data Management and replaced it with newly acquired A2i technology. In a press release, the German software vendor touted Rubbermaid's use of SAP NetWeaver MDM, trying to drum up business for its product which is seen by analysts as lacking some key functionality.
Andrew White, research director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., said many enterprises have MDM as a priority in 2006. Many SAP customers are considering SAP's MDM product, which is still maturing, he said.
"It is very important to SAP customers in their goals for realizing many of the benefits from adopting SOA and ESA in complex heterogeneous IT environments," he said. "SAP has many customers of SAP MDM now but most of the established customer references are still from the legacy A2i acquisition. 'New' SAP shops that have since licensed the product since the acquisition will be coming on stream through 2006."
While A2i's product synchronizes product master data and synchronizes it well, it still lacks the ability to synchronize customer and supplier data, according to Bill Swanton, a research vice president at Boston-based AMR Research Inc. The ability to synchronize multiple data sources is available in more robust software, he said.
Swanton said it is still unclear whether any new development has taken place since the acquisition.
"Given the time it takes for a company to decide to buy or upgrade and then implement, it's still early in the game for a large number of good references," Swanton said. "The few I have talked to are still in implementation or … a former A2i customer."
Before choosing an MDM product, companies should first document their master data architecture, Swanson said. SAP should be considered beside other vendor products, added.
"It's always worth a look if you are an SAP customer; just clearly understand what is there today and whether it is enough to meet your goals," he said.
Success at Rubbermaid Commercial Products
For Rubbermaid Commercial Products, the ability to synchronize product data has improved efficiencies and saved costs by eliminating the manual labor of inputting product data in nearly a dozen different databases, DeZarn said.
"Manufacturing and planning developed their own database, sales had their own, marketing communications had their own and on and on. There was no single complete source of truth," DeZarn said. "It meant that any time there was a product change, that change would have to be entered into every database manually and if that piece of information got into all those on the front end, you were exceedingly lucky."
The division uses the import manager, print manager and syndicate features to automate the import of mass data into MDM. The features help the division use the data in the database to populate page layout and to create product catalogues without manually entering data, he said.
"I can proactively publish custom data sets to all of these catalogues in an automated fashion," he said.
The division deployed A2i in less than three months and went live for more than 300 users, with nearly immediate adoption due to the ease of the interface, DeZarn said.
"It's really delivering to sales and marketing right now and it's extremely reliable and robust so we went from really dysfunctional systems to having very good accessible data," he said. "We went from being in a tent into a house and we're happy to be in the house."