Effectively and sensibly serving different publication channels, each with different requirements and formats, is a major technical and organizational challenge. Nothing happens immediately and at the push of a button - even if the advertising likes to say so.

Publishing is all about your data. That is why the existing data and information, their quality, availability and process design are the most important aspects of a multichannel publishing project. You can make a decisive contribution to the efficient, cost-effective and high-quality implementation of a project goal and gradually become a publishing professional yourself. Just ask yourself the following questions:

Who do I have to ask to know which data I have in which form and where?

You should always be in control of all the information and data you need (image files and assets, texts, product information, translations, finished documents, etc.). This does not necessarily mean the physical storage location. However, you must be able to access, supplement, manage, control and jointly maintain data yourself in a timely and comprehensive manner without being dependent on service providers, their individual systems and their workflows. Because you are constantly chasing your own data.

Rather, the aim should be to provide all those involved, employees and service providers with an opportunity that everyone can access jointly and based on rights and under compliance aspects. Your data material is thus qualitatively increased according to your ideas and rules, is always up-to-date and can also be used centrally and media-neutrally.

PIM systems take on exactly this task and all information can be maintained in parallel and distributed, imported from different systems and synchronized. This information is thus available centrally and uniformly and can be published directly from the PIM using the appropriate publishing modules.

How is the quality of my data currently?

Even the most beautiful product images are useless if they are not available in fine resolution and in a media-neutral and open format. The quality of the motif is certainly decisive for the later presentation - but it is even more important whether this data can be used at all technically for the individual output channels. In addition, all existing data should be given a uniform name as early as possible, or sensible naming conventions should be introduced at this point at the latest. It is of no use if each individual file can only be defined manually and by viewing it in the respective program for a specific purpose. Especially with image files, the meta information is often neglected and poorly maintained. Collect, structure and pre-classify all data as much as possible. If data is distributed in different systems, technical information about the systems, the possible interfaces of these systems and the access options are absolutely necessary. At this point at the latest you will be confronted with the next data problems.

How up-to-date is my data?

Data that has often been collected over years and decades must be checked to ensure it is up-to-date. Because data that has become outdated and useless no longer has to be considered in the following project steps. They only increase the effort within a project and therefore also the project costs.

How often do I have the same data? Do I have the appropriate usage rights?

20 different versions of the same image. However, only the best available quality is required. Sort out in advance. Modern MAM, DAM and also PIM systems only need a fine-resolution and format-neutral file in order to automate the usual formats and resolutions and generate them according to the later application. It makes a difference whether 20 image files have to be maintained in a DAM system in a project and enriched with meta information, or just one image. Images that are no longer suitable must be recreated. The same applies, of course, to texts, translations and product information. Furthermore, all rights of use of images and assets must be clarified properly. Because if material is to be used for various output channels, it is essential to determine in advance whether the corresponding rights of use also apply to all desired output channels. Corresponding penalties resulting from violations of existing regulations should not be underestimated.

Have I defined the right contact persons?

Hand over responsibilities and define independent and competent contact persons from different departments in your company for the project.

Responsible contact persons are also required on the part of the existing and external service providers who will be involved during a project. Especially when it comes to required or possible interface options. Nothing makes a project as tough and tedious as missing and changing contact persons and the principle of "silent post" without decisions being made.

Here we come directly to the next important point, which is decisive for the costs and the success of the entire project.

Does everyone really know about the planned project?

Involve the departments, employees and external service providers involved at an early stage. Also recognize the "small" everyday problems and take up suggestions and ideas for optimization. Talk not only to department heads, but also to the employees who work “on the front lines” every day. Take away any fears of the planned restructuring measures. It's not about cutting back on entire departments and terminating long-term business relationships, but rather bundling core competencies, expanding opportunities and optimizing time-consuming processes.

They have no idea how creatively their efforts can be thwarted out of fear, resentment, ignorance and uncertainty, so that entire projects are doomed to fail at great expense.

Recognize the different needs of the departments before the planned project. Each department is part of the later process chain and has different requirements and wishes. All must be taken into account, because a value chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The best and most effective company intranets, for example, have always been created from the bottom up and have not been introduced by top management in a top-down design.

Do I still have the right goal in mind?

Since it will soon be up to the provider and system selection, it will be difficult again.

Companies that want to optimize and expand their publishing processes often make the same mistake. Especially if this is the first project in this form. The management invites 15 service providers, agencies and consultants on one day and in the end the following comes out:

“ Actually, at the beginning we wanted to optimize our catalog creation processes and fill our online shop automatically. But after what we have now learned, we still need mobile apps, social media, Web2Print, a new content management system and flip catalogues.” Don't get confused. An important aspect is the precise definition of a project with a beginning and a goal. And without the goal and the circumstances constantly changing. A missing target definition with changing requirements also makes a project unnecessarily expensive and nerve-wracking. Be realistic and stick to your original goal. Commit yourself to this set goal by writing it down personally and thereby fixing it. Small, manageable project steps that build on one another are more effective than a large and endless all-round effort.

Change management, chain management, process design and strategy

Depending on the scope of a PIM project, the changes to the existing processes in the company are more or less profound. A concrete objective of all those involved (monetary and non-monetary) is therefore also the basis for the process modelling.

Expensive mistakes can be made if process chains and coordination mechanisms are designed incorrectly, have gaps, information asymmetries (e.g. whiplash effect in supply chains) arise or ultimately the workload for everyone involved is greater than before the project.

Central process issues in a PIM project are therefore always: - Which systems are involved? - Who are the actors? What are the technical requirements? How extensive is the technical understanding? - Where and when is which data created and in what form? What information is it all about? - Who maintains, creates or requires this data? When is data needed by whom? - Where, how and by whom is the data checked and released? - Who else needs to be involved in the release? What exactly has to be approved by whom? What happens if approvals are not granted?

How will we continue to work during the project?

The majority of the effort involved in an entire multichannel publishing project is often the constant data consolidation of data and information that has changed in the meantime. This is a classic for such long-term projects and also for later publishing processes. The use of a PIM system already helps with this problem during the implementation of a multichannel publishing workflow.

Do I even have the experience internally to handle such a project on my own?

Be sure to define specifications and functional specifications with the executing service provider. Agree on realistic deadlines and control the results. If necessary, get an experienced and independent consultant on board to coordinate the project before you select the system. This usually not only helps you, but also the respective executing service providers to implement a project efficiently and with high quality.

Did I really make the right decision when choosing the system?

Make sure that the system to be implemented does not rule out future expansion right from the start because it is not very flexible. All too often program-specific and proprietary export formats, as well as the system-specific approach of an IT solution, exclude the flexible further use of the content from the outset. Content you maintain and all your expended intellectual and creative energy is stuck in so-called “black boxes” and “black holes”.

It's better to find out a little more in advance before you get any nasty surprises when it's already too late.

Also make sure that the implementing service provider employs enough specialists who have experience with PIM systems. Many multimedia agencies have embraced the current PIM trend and offer PIM in addition to other services - the actual core competencies are usually elsewhere and even at large agencies only a few employees are often familiar with the PIM topic. Often only CMS systems are provided with a product database, which, however, has little to do with a really flexible PIM system. Therefore, do not only orientate yourself on pretty user interfaces that offer a few clear management options and only give the impression of being easy to use at first glance. With a few products with little information that rarely changes, such a system may be sufficient - with thousands of products with the most diverse characteristics that have to be managed in different languages ​​and that change frequently, these systems quickly reach their limits.

The type of print publication is also decisive for a system selection. If, in the case of frequent catalog design changes, the service provider first has to create new web templates in a proprietary format, a PIM solution with directly connected standard layout software for print output and template creation is more advantageous.

With this combination, all types of print catalogs can also be created, regardless of the desired degree of design and automation. Changes can be implemented internally or by your contracted graphic designer, which in turn saves time and money with every catalog change. The acceptance of the team increases, dependencies on service providers are reduced and you can act more freely in the long term. You remain independent in your business decisions.

With a modular, flexible and mature product information management system and a reasonable, consolidated database, the basic multichannel publishing requirements can be implemented quickly and easily using the available publishing modules. And that right from the first project step.

Other publishing channels, such as mobile devices or online catalogues, can gradually be added individually and promptly.

Closing words

After the first successful project, you will become more and more of a publishing professional and the most important prerequisites for subsequent projects have already been taken care of: central, uniform, consolidated and media-neutral data storage as a flexible basis for all future publishing channels while at the same time exploiting cost-cutting and Potential for increasing performance through effective process optimization.