In the first post in this mini-series introducing eProcurement and SRM enabler jCatalog to Spend Matters readers, I provided some high-level background on jCatalog's history, solutions and overall approach to catalog and content management. In the second and final post in this initial look at jCatalog, I'll go a bit deeper in my investigation, looking at some of the differentiators of their approach as well as how they stack up to alternatives in the market. Perhaps the most important takeaway for those considering the catalog and supplier management implications of their eProcurement or SRM deployments should consider when it comes to jCatalog is that powerful content management tools don't necessarily have to require the involvement of a highly skilled technical resource to administer or even configure.
With jCatalog, and some other non-ERP content management and enablement tools, it's possible for a business user in procurement to add new attributes to categories or SKUs in minutes without requiring custom development or IT intervention. This may sound like a trivial thing for those focused on nailing a big bang SRM deployment up-front, but think about the implications of adding new categories or SKUs into a system when a new supplier comes online. Or when you make an acquisition and need to integrate different catalogs and rationalize items and ordering processes. If you go down the SAP MDM path alone, for example, you'll encounter a more challenging situation in these exceptions, often requiring the involvement of technical resources. In short, when it comes to the practical world of purchasing and buying, such flexibility can help ensure that organizations which decide to go down the internally hosted and managed eProcurement and SRM route can maximize their potential spend under management relative to those that fully or partially punt on the matter by working with a third-party (e.g., Ariba, Hubwoo, Perfect, Ketera, etc.) to take over the administration and management of third party content for them.
When it comes to actually using jCatalog in a catalog search and buying mode, the overall interface and experience is relatively straightforward. I'd even wager the search component feels and looks a bit like, dare I say, Google. The search components have the standard features of full text search engines and also include the concept of detailed item comparisons and faceted navigation (which brings me back to what we tried to originally do with Spend Matters Navigator and hope to revisit at some point soon). If the particular application is set up to include such fields, users can also set up queries and searches based on parametric part or SKU information.
From this level of detail, you can probably tell jCatalog can work equally well for both indirect and direct materials. While many of the benefits jCatalog positions for its solutions focus on efficiency (e.g., reduction of time spent viewing and comparing products, reduced order processing time, etc.), I'd argue that the most important benefits it can bring to companies actually focus on overall procurement effectiveness. After all, the reason so many earlier SAP SRM implementations failed to achieve their original objectives is that companies did not account for the challenge of on-boarding and managing content for more than a handful of suppliers. And jCatalog, specifically, can help address this challenge head-on -- even for highly complicated catalog items and SKUs.
Who should put jCatalog on their shortlist for catalog and content management for eProcurement -- or broader product information management -- initiatives? I'd argue that just about any organization considering an installed version of a non-Ariba eProcurement product (e.g., SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft) should at least see what they have to offer. These types of companies will typically be large, global enterprises with significant internal project and technology resources to get an eProcurement system up and running. In terms of specific verticals, jCatalog feels like it's also a natural fit with a range of industries, including those requiring the configuring and ordering of complex services (e.g, oil and gas). And of course, all others that use eProcurement for catalog items as well.
While there are certainly alternatives and complements (e.g., Vinimaya, supplier-networked based models, etc.), it feels to me like jCatalog has one of the better mousetraps in a sector that was originally pioneered and led by Requisite, among others. And fortunately, whether you work with jCatalog directly or through a partner such as Perfect, you'll gain access to a powerful toolset that can scale up or down based on the level of complexity, depth and global requirements of your overall buying needs.