Trek Bicycle Corporation faced a mountain of demand for its bikes and accessories, but data practices and processes that were stuck in first gear. To make the shift, the Wisconsin-based bike peddler took on a master data management program chained together with efficiency, uniformity and a team approach.

Exposure from its cycles driven by winning teams at high-profile races such as the Tour de France turned Trek into a globally recognized and in-demand source for bikes, frames and riding gear in a few quick years following about 25 years as more of a niche cycling player. Sales had more than doubled in just over a decade, surpassing $800 million in 2010, and the bike seller had also taken over other specialized industry players. But where its business interest was now leading the pack in U.S.-based sales, the product, sales and marketing data behind bikes wasn’t keeping pace.

Because product managers lacked a standardized approach on bike data, some products had more than a dozen entries in back-end systems, and each had incorrect or missing images. Incorrect and inconsistent data caused catalogs to be delayed, sometimes by months. A long-used third-party product data manager was recognized companywide to be a “faulty” source. International demands added language barriers and incorrect items unknowingly posted or shipped via overseas brokers’ Web portals.

“Making the case to the business for a new data management practice wasn’t terribly difficult,” said Marc Richards, a solutions architect at Stibo Systems, who previously led the data systems update at Trek as its web technologies manager. “We didn’t really have to convince anyone.” 

In the spring of 2010, Trek asked for and quickly received the starting pistol from the business side to find an internal MDM system and process. Trek opted for Stibo Systems’ STEP Master Data Management platform as the basis for clarifying data, streamlining processes and dealing with information taken back in-house after years with the third-party manager. In all, it was an 18-month process. A key element in matching up MDM project benchmarks with the mutual desire by business and information leaders for a full cycle of change with its data management rested with the people who directly handled the changing company content. A few content and data quality managers were brought in to get the project started. The work by this small, temporary team and implementation of the MDM platform were already showing uniform and positive results with the cycle vendor’s data. Business leaders focused on overall efficiency, but IT and data leaders had started to see the situation differently, as they realized the amount of time and effort that would be required to keep data quality and consistency moving in the right direction with a reduced or outsourced content team. 

After a few months of discussion between IT and business, including an outline of spending on training and costs from probable lapses in data quality compared with bringing on a few more data managers, Trek established an in-house, six-person content team that is at the heart of the MDM initiative to this day.

“To be honest, at the start, we worked with product managers who had other, full-time responsibilities and had lackluster results” for governance and data quality, says Elizabeth Schoob, PIM business analyst at Trek. “If we wanted the content to be clean and reduce translation costs, we had to make it the responsibility of a core group of individuals who work with product and brand managers.”

As with any project, there were surprises. A concurrent Trek website redesign stretched out the time for the full front-end roll out of the new data processes. Governance issues went deeper than anticipated, or than managers really realized, especially when it came to mismatched product lifecycle and after-market sales data.

In the year since the MDM system, process and team have settled in, Trek executives feel the still-growing company finally has a handle on SKU and other identifying information for its bicycles and related products. Catalogs and online sales resources are consistent and are ready for business when anticipated. In a matter of weeks at a time, Trek is able to crank up nation- and language-based product information and marketing of its products where it had no constancy – or sales – previously. Packaging materials on products feature the same data on the manufacturing side as that that sought and recognized on the sales-side, something that Schoob says is spreading to every Trek product by the end of 2013.

Schoob says the data management moves are beginning to pique interest in standardization and more fluid processes across Trek, in an industry where only a few of the sellers are large and wide-reaching enough to take on deeper data projects like MDM. 

”After a few different groups within Trek saw the improvements we’d made just with our catalog publishing, they have wanted to create their own projects to standardize their data, and use our translation process and digital asset management tools,” she said. “We’re able to do a lot of different things now, and it’s only going to expand.”

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