Bonus Content: Order from Disorder

By D. Douglas Graham

A content management system (CMS) is a computer software program that orders and maintains data. Content captured in this way can be profitably exploited in a hundred more; as information helpful to the sales process, as intelligence critical to inventory and warehouse management—the list goes on and on. Today’s electrical distributor runs on information collected, organized, and presented by a CMS, and so does its customer. Here’s a primer on the CMS concept, and some expert advice on how such solutions prove advantageous to wholesalers.

Web data presentation is CMS Mission One. Content management solutions vary in scope, complexity and function; all with the same object – to centralize and make accessible the intelligence from which websites are built. For a distribution such intelligence might include SKU descriptions and imagery, minimum and maximum product quality requirements, customer information and business data relevant to appropriate parties inside and out. A good content management system is as much an asset to a wholesaler as a good employee –  available when required, and ready always with the right answer the moment it’s needed most. 

“Distributors are data-driven,” explains Dominic Telaro, director of industry solutions, I.B.I.S. Inc., an independent software vendor in Peachtree Corners, GA., with customers worldwide. “They depend on information to keep their operations on-track and customers up to date on the products and services they want and need. Customers rely on data to make purchasing decisions, and the more timely, accurate information a wholesaler provides, the more credible it becomes as a source of supply. But this is only part of what CMS is about. Content management software also opens a window to the workings of your business, and instantaneously channels information vital to both customers and employees.”

Before the Internet, information was mailed, faxed or couriered, and in many cases outdated before it was received. When the Net came along, time-sensitive data became instantaneously accessible and shareable. Must-know intelligence once conveyed via hard copy or telex rippled through the vastness of Cyber Space, reaching thousands with the need to know with the push of a key. The world of business would never be the same.

CMS and the Internet advanced together. While solutions designed to capture and maintain information have existed almost as long as software itself, the Web accelerated their development and improved them overall. Evolved CMS is a marriage of software and the Internet. This has made more information easily available to a far greater number of people, and much-enhanced the value of data once too time-sensitive to be of use for long.

Content managed software and the Internet merged at the dawn of the E-commerce Age, by which time commercial websites had grown into data repositories and virtual stores populated by CMS-provided content. In this new era, fresh data was instantly posted for consumption by online customers, and edited just as quickly. CMS also captured and stored information for internal use, adding speed and efficiency to problem-solving. Data was ubiquitous. Memos went electric. The gears of decision making turned with speed unheard of in the Paper Epoch attributable to fast and easy information access.

Yet CMS adoption among electrical distributors was not universal, and to this day some distributors still rely on the equivalent of stone tools to struggle through processes they could knock out quickly and painlessly using 21st Century technology.

“More electrical distributors need to wake up to the fact that the Internet and Web-based technologies are here to stay,”  Telaro observes. “Not having CMS can damage a company’s credibility. A customer service rep on the phone needs information at his fingertips in order to deal quickly with questions or even complaints in a manner satisfying to customers. Even if you’re old school, it’s a good idea to technology-enhance to some extent the processes you already have. Better than than get left behind.” 

A CMS database can be culled from a variety of sources. Enterprise Resource Planing software (ERP) is a font of basic information. Other possible content sources include manufacturers who are in the position to provide a wealth of detailed information about the products they sell. But chasing down content is an arduous task demanding much in the way of time, money and manpower.

A content provider may offer a practical alternative to do-it-yourself. Such companies offer data for sale customized to the needs of clients – specs on e-commerce offerings, for example, and accompanying imagery. Partnership with a content provider or CMS vendor can make adoption less difficult so long as the leadership is on-board with the initiative, and all processes are blueprinted in advance.

“Blueprinting is all-important,” explains Linda Taddonio, chief e-commerce strategy officer, Insite Software, a b2b e-commerce and shipping platform provider in Minneapolis. “You have to make certain in advance that all the pieces of technology at work in your organization will work together. You also have to budget for such an initiative, define objectives and set deadlines. A CMS initiative is a complicated process but in the age of e-commerce all important if the goal is to keep current customers and lure new ones to your door.”

D. Douglas Graham is a St. Louis-based freelance writer. Reach him at 314-394-0371.

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