Case Study: Panasonic Searches the Master Data for a Single Version of Truth

First to Market

Charles Seymour, president of Yale University from 1937 to 1951, famously made a remark that rings true for more than just hallowed institutions. “We seek the truth,” he said, “and will endure the consequences.” Given that Seymour died in 1963, it’s unlikely he was speaking on behalf of today’s CIO. But he might as well have been.

No one understands that better than Bob Schwartz, vice president of Panasonic North America Information Technology. The consumer electronics giant is in the midst of trying to achieve the holy grail of data management: the coveted “single version of the truth.” The company has launched an ambitious campaign, starting in Europe, to reconcile product information across its many divisions in an effort to speed time-to-market. “Literally thousands of people handle this product data multiple times over,” says Schwartz. “In legacy environments, over fax machines, e-mails, phone calls and snail mail. There’s tremendous inefficiency, and a real possibility for accuracy issues.”

Much has been gained as corporate networks have subsumed increasingly complex business functions; companies have the ability to create, store, share and analyze data about products, customers and suppliers in ways never dreamed of just a few decades ago. But something has been lost as well: a consistent and accurate single view of those products, and customers, that’s available to those who need it when they need it—the so-called single version of the truth. Somewhere along the way, many an IT department has lost the handle on clean data. And now they are enduring the consequences.

Today, many multinational companies are waking up to find that they have numerous, duplicative and incomplete records stored in multiple repositories across the enterprise—in remote and isolated information islands. All of which tends to slow these companies down, and cost them money. And for a corporation as big, and as spread out, as Panasonic, this is not a trivial issue. Consider the rollout of a single product across just Panasonic Europe Ltd.’s operations. With 15 different sales subsidiaries, 14 manufacturing facilities, five research and development centers, and seven administrative outposts, the task of getting the right materials—photos, product specifications, manuals, pricing, even point-of-sale marketing information—from the right source into the right hands (and in the right language) entails a complexity akin to handling air-traffic control at LaGuardia. Worse, the process has been more ad hoc than systematized.

What’s more, the time required to modify and massage product materials for regional or national purposes has made it almost impossible to contemplate a truly simultaneous global product launch, which leaves Panasonic more vulnerable to competition in those regions that weren’t at the front of the line. “That lag time, particularly for strategic products like plasma TVs, has allowed competitors to come into markets before us, or concurrently,” says Schwartz. “And there’s no reason why we should be in the lead in one place, and not first to market in another.”

Story guide:

  • First to Market
  • A Corporate Mandate
  • A Unified Europe
  • U.S. Looks to Emulate Europe’s Success
  • A Culture Clash
  • RFID Looms

    Next page: A Corporate Mandate

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