(I’m going to use a little ink over the next couple of weeks to highlight a few of  many presentations coming up at our MDM Summit at the San Francisco Hyatt Regency this month. My plug ends with the hope you’ll have a look at www.mdm-summit.com and consider the learning and networking opportunity of this event that I always look forward to. -ed)

Among the entity types addressed by master data management, product information management presents a particularly thorny challenge due to a lack of standards and the broad, even limitless number of attributes a product can be measured by. There is always something to learn in this category.

We have come across only a few serious examples of broad enterprise PIM and hope to cover such a program soon. More often, we hear of creative and targeted applications, which I believe is the much more usual ground-up story.

Many readers are familiar with Polycom and its lines of audio, group conferencing and telepresence products. (Based on travel budgets, I’d count telepresence as a pretty good business to be in at the moment.)

The PIM strategy that Steve Dimas, senior director at Polycom, and Nagesh Kanumury, MDM practice director at consulting partner Perficient will be discussing at our conference is Polycom’s plans for PIM benefits in the global sales channel.

Timely, comprehensive information for the sales channel is sensible enough, and Polycom is pointedly addressing its 600-plus sales partners in its project with equal vigor.

The sales challenge for Polycom is less about too many SKUs than it is about regulations and standards that apply to a particular country.

Polycom offers about 80 distinct products, but because of local restrictions as well as the connectors, accessories and services for local use, the number jumps to about 30,000 parts. An example is HDX or RDX telepresence products offered to just about every country not on a State Department list. The handful of telepresence products Polycom manufactures are shipped, serviced and sold through partners. But it can take weeks and a lot of intellectual property to sort out what works in one country – or in a city or in a five-nation corporate deal – and stands up to regulations for mercury-based solder or other production inputs.

“You don’t want a new sales rep or somebody looking at a new territory to go through weeks of gathering intellectual property and calling our engineers a dozen times to get his or her job done,” Dimas says.

In other words, this PIM project has a regional flair that also extends to partner attributes. What Dimas and Kanumury hope to do with the fledgling project is take intellectual property out of people’s heads and put it online in real time so people can see exactly what works together in five, 10 or 200 countries.

“Managing the attributes of products help you sell, but also when they are available to sell, when they are available to order, the price, the countries and regions they can they be sold in. That’s what really helps the sales force,” says Dimas.

The back office work of managing PIM attributes is valuable on its own, but the more compelling case came with the proposition that partners could shorten the competitive sales cycle and turn around quotes rapidly with local, regional and interregional information.

“That’s when the ROI went from multiple years to less than a year for us,” says Dimas. "That’s when we became excited to know the internal stuff is really cool but that we could see this in the hands of our partners first.”

Polycom still has a lot of work ahead, but a good bit of advice to share based on my discussion with them. We’ll have questions we hope to learn from and a story to follow up on as their project goes into production.

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