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Don't Rock the Boat: Managing Data Flow by Anand Raman and Arvind Naik

Don't Rock the Boat: Managing Data Flow by Anand Raman and Arvind Naik

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Published by SapientNitro
In any e-commerce solution, it is integral to manage every piece of data: whether it’s product, catalog, or merchandise. And to drive successful e-commerce, a business must have complete, accurate, combined data available in a timely manner.

Often, data flow is not a top priority. In fact, it’s perhaps a secondary thought at best. And although each e-commerce project brings its own unique challenges, there are common basal data elements across the board.

After understanding the challenges and lessons in this paper, technical architects, developers, and project managers alike will be able to identify data flow design and data availability as a fundamental aspect of any e-commerce project and prepare a cohesive plan to address their unique business challenges.
In any e-commerce solution, it is integral to manage every piece of data: whether it’s product, catalog, or merchandise. And to drive successful e-commerce, a business must have complete, accurate, combined data available in a timely manner.

Often, data flow is not a top priority. In fact, it’s perhaps a secondary thought at best. And although each e-commerce project brings its own unique challenges, there are common basal data elements across the board.

After understanding the challenges and lessons in this paper, technical architects, developers, and project managers alike will be able to identify data flow design and data availability as a fundamental aspect of any e-commerce project and prepare a cohesive plan to address their unique business challenges.

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Published by: SapientNitro on Jul 16, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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11/10/2013

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© Sapient Corporation 2012
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THE BIG PICTURE
In any e-commerce solution, it is integral to manage every piece of data: whether it’s product, catalog,or merchandise. And to drive successful e-commerce, a business must have complete, accurate,combined data available in a timely manner.Often, data flow is not a top priority. In fact, it’s perhaps a secondary thought at best. And although eache-commerce project brings its own unique challenges, there are common basal data elements acrossthe board.After understanding the challenges and lessons in this paper, technical architects, developers,and project managers alike will be able to identify data flow design and data availability as afundamental aspect of any e-commerce project and prepare a cohesive plan to address their unique business challenges.
WHY DOES DATA FLOW MATTER?
At the on-set of an e-commerce project, businesses typically provide little to no specific requirementsaround data flow. They might plan to have some catalog systems, search features, and product dataloaded through backend systems but that’s about it. Typically the focus is on the customer experienceand how to get the pertinent data to those customers and other business users. But without acomprehensive data flow, there will be setbacks in the future.Attention must also be paid to the timing of flow development. During the later part of the development,questions often arise such as: When should I expect my price or promotion to show up? What shouldI do if I want to remove a product right away? Unless you’ve thought about those questions early on, itcould be too little too late. For instance, if you’re in the testing cycle of a project, it’s likely impossible todesign a solution for data flow issues unless you have been thinking about them early on. Likewise, it’sdifficult to have timely, frequent site refreshes without a comprehensive data flow strategy.It’s paramount to think about data flow as it pertains to every functional requirement—what kind ofdata with what kind of system within what time frame—in order to maintain efficiency and controlthroughout every process.
 
 
 Don’t Rock the Boat: Managing Data Flow
 By: Anand Raman, Commerce Technology Practice Manager, and Arvind Naik,Technical Architect, SapientNitro
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© Sapient Corporation 2012
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COMMON DATA TYPES
Data mapping is a critical part of logical data flow design and this pictorial diagram represents atypical e-commerce data flow solution. Of course, the process can be much more complicated, but thisrepresentation offers a basic outline of what to expect when planning requirements around data flow.Mapping data in an accessible way will facilitate the discussion on data flow. Laying out the best, typical,and worst case Service-Level Agreement (SLA) is paramount in order to arrive at an agreeable set ofservice levels. At times, new integration techniques and solutions may need to be identified if none ofthe existing integration techniques are sufficient. Be prepared to even change the foundation of thesolution architecture if certain service levels are critical to the existence of the business.Though each e-commerce system is unique and has special business needs, most share commonbasic categories of data. And all e-commerce systems need to handle many types of data each with itsown source, lifecycle, rules, and criticality. Add in the multiple systems, business logic, workflows, andprocessing businesses must go through, and you’ve got a tremendously complex maze on your hands.The first step in defining a data flow strategy is to identify data types relevant to you. They include, butare not limited to:
Product Data
• Product information (e.g., specifications)• Product lifecycle (e.g., launch date)• Product images (e.g., various renditions)• Product rich content (e.g., multimedia)• Product merchant relationships (e.g., cross-sell, up-sell)• Product social data (e.g., ratings and reviews)• Product pricing (e.g., MSRP, sale price)• Pricing promotions and messages (e.g., discounts, clearance)
Category Data
• Category information (e.g., taxonomies: master, product, sales)• Category images• Category attributes
Fig. 1. A typical data flow diagram
 
© Sapient Corporation 2012
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Marketing Data
• Marketing promotions (e.g., order or shipping offers)• Merchandizing relationships (e.g., personalized recommendations)• Shipping rates calculations
Inventory Data
• Availability• Stock-in-hand• Release/street date• Backorder/pre-order 
Search Index Data
• Searchable attributes• Facets, keywords, SEO
Once data types are identified, understand the expectations of the data by engaging in conversations with business stakeholders, analysts and other experts. Many times, the requirements are unclear,even for key stakeholders. In such situations, starting with the necessities that are practical andfeasible is often the right approach.It can also help to articulate relationships and dependencies using an entity-relationship diagram. Atypical diagram may have hundreds of tables and a number of dependencies, which have significantimpact on the SLAs.
DATA SOURCES
Major corporations have multiple sources to gather data; e-commerce data does not always originatefrom a single source. And, for each piece of data, you have to consider where the best source for thatdata lies. It is important to recognize the benefits and limitations all sources upfront to make the bestpossible decision.
Fig. 2. An entity-relationship diagram

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