Managing assets in e-commerce
IBM commerce brings together best of the breed of products that address each capability needed for your successful ecommerce strategy. However, with the bonanza of choices available, often there are overlaps in capabilities that are difficult to understand in first pass. A retailer often has to manage multiple assets in and outside the context of ecommerce. While creation of information for these assets need specialized systems, it is often convenient to bring information together for ecommerce and preview it before making it available to shoppers on retailer's website. In this blog, I shall touch upon "Workspace Management tool" of WebSphere Commerce. Workspace management tool is often a highlight in sales presentation and is more often misunderstood by customers. Hopefully I shall debunk some myths about this tool and point to some information on right use of this tool.
IBM Knowledgecenter has fantastic information on Workspaces - but here is a compressed short version:
Workspace management tool replaced the older Workspace administration tool -- moved it from Accelerator to Management Center. It allows IT to enable "workspaces" - which are private copies of what WebSphere Commerce calls as managed assets. By managed assets, we mean Catalog (master and sales), Category, Catalog Entry (SKU, Product, Bundles, Kits), Attribute dictionary attributes, SEO, Search term associations, promotions, eSpots, marketing activities (web, dialog), search rules and attachments. A full list of what is under the purview of workspace and what is not can be found in Overview section of knowledge center.
By private copy, we mean each workspace will have its own persisted copy of the object managed - your own personal database. Additionally, IT enables a set of features such as shopping flow preview, email notification, change history and quick publish.
Next we set up roles - primary role is that of a workspace manager - who can create and manage workspaces, task groups and tasks. The manager also assigns approvers for task groups and contributors for tasks. Contributors are typically business users who work on tasks and move them to completion. Approvers, typically category, marketing and product managers, review the tasks completed by contributors and approve them for moving to live production site. Tasks are a unit of work that are assigned to contributors who work on that task - for example, changing the short description of a product. Task group is a collection of tasks that form a collection of changes that are committed together - all tasks in a task group must be complete before a task group can be committed. More details on these concepts can be found here:
It has an interesting locking policy - workspace, task group or task level - but works in a way that many customers did not get first time we explained to them mainly because of the fact that multiple contributors can be assigned to a task and task group. You can read more about the locking policy.
Now, let us get to some common questions I have come across during my interactions with customers.
1. Is this my product information manager?
It can manage information about all products. Your IT team can set it up so that data from multiple systems (or vendors) can be loaded into individual workspaces, reviewed and then merged (note: this requires some customization). But should you? Workspace management tool is a fantastic place to stage your product information before exposing it to your ecommerce channel - but if your need is for an enterprise wide system of truth for products, while this can be that system, ready made Product Information Manager are better suited for this purpose. Often PIMs have features such as de-duplication, rules to define completeness or quality, manage prioritization between data sources and processes to search/research on products to classify them by channel. You can read more about the need of PIM in my colleague's blog.
2. Is this my Web Content Manager and Digital assets manager?
Similar answer as previous question. This is the tool where you can easily bring together your web and digital content with your products. But if you need a tool that needs to serve enterprise wide needs, especially if there are significant differences from your e-commerce way of using those assets, OR if you need to do some editing on the assets themselves (for example, image transformation) - you are better off with a specialized web content manager. In other words, content managers are better off with specialized tools, while product managers and marketing managers who consume those contents to create robust websites or campaigns are perfectly at home with Commerce Management Center.
3. Is this my all in all task manager?
Often this is considered to be used as a tool for managing "all" tasks - including incident and case management! This tool is specifically for managing assets within the scope of WebSphere Commerce - what those assets are are well defined and what can be done to those assets are also well defined - no more, no less. If you need a task manager that can track your build and deployment or tests, consider Rational Team Concert or many of the alternatives available in the market. Also, it is up to you to manage the tasks, task groups and workspaces - unlike RTC you won't get a release, project and dashboards. Finally, since each workspace gets you a private database schema, the number of active workspaces will need to be balanced with practical performance considerations.
In short, if e-commerce is the center of your corporate universe and it feeds everything you need, then Commerce Management Center could be the product and content master as long as you recognize that you need another tool to create and edit that content. WebSphere Commerce integrates with WCM directly from management center (with single sign on too)- so that switching between a task of product management and content editing can be seamlessly done. Management center also integrates with CKEditor - a rich text editor.