Industrial Controls Distributors Successfully Juggles Specification Schemas From Over 100 Manufacturers using PIM from Questudio

Creating the first edition of a 1,200 page printed catalog is a daunting task. Creating a technical catalog containing a wide range of products manufactured by over 100 partners, each with their own unique information schemas, is even more complex. As catalog content manager Kathleen Lippencott described, “It seems that our products not only look different, but they all require a different approach for storing and presenting the data. Some products required configuration, some required dimensional drawing libraries, and some required multidimensional charts.”

“Every case was different. We needed one system that was versatile enough to adapt to every situation and still allow us to create marketing materials in a snap.”

ICD approached Questudio in 2009 with a list of their most popular 100,000 SKUs. The specifications and advertising materials for the products were scattered all over the organization in engineering books, internal and external websites, CDs, PCs, and in loose specification sheets. ICD wanted to organize the information into one central repository, which would then be used to drive their catalog, website, and internal information needs.

“Our products are engineered,” said Lippencott.  “It really takes someone with solid background in our industry to understand what goes into selecting and configuring a product. With Questudio’s specific expertise in this area, we were able to simplify and standardize our product selection data.”

Questudio’s product information management (PIM) experts were able to identify patterns that existed across different sources of content. “Really, when you look past the industry-specific descriptions that are typically recorded on product spec sheets and just look at the systematic ways in which they are organized, the same kind of attribute charts, product configurations, and specification tables always emerge,” explained project manager David Nicoletti.  “Understanding information architecture is the key to building a product database that does its job effectively.”

The project was broken up into three major phases:

Phase 1:  Information Architecture

Phase 2:  Data Acquisition

Phase 3:  Data Output

During the information architecture phase of the project, Questudio sampled products from every product category and manufacturer. The goal was to define the format in which data would be stored, how the fields would be labeled with standardized labels, and which design templates would be used for catalog and website pages.

By assigning attributes to products, or by listing them in an attribute table, one can differentiate between them. This architecture was the most common form encountered by ICD, and it was used for approximately half of the products in the catalog. When integrating products from multiple manufacturers into one system, the attributes and values had to be standardized. For example, one manufacturer assigned “Feedback” attributes to products while another assigned “Output” attributes. Since these are essentially the same thing, a common convention had to be applied so that they could be combined in one table or search.

Configurators are similar to attribute tables because they help differentiate products from one another. The difference is that configured products do not exist in the database or on the printed page because the number of combinations available is too large to efficiently display.

As the information architecture phase progressed, it became apparent that sources used for data extraction did not consistently use the same schemas, attributes, labels, or value formats. Questudio and ICD worked together to “normalize” the catalog content. Data normalization involves making decisions about which architectures are optimal for the end-user and then converting other architectures into that form. “In the end, we saw that the normalization process made production easier and gave us a much more user-friendly catalog,” said Lippencott.

When the information architecture phase was completed, Questudio provided data entry services to populate the CatalogStudio database, generated 1,200 catalog pages with the InStudio plugin for InDesign, and helped integrate the database into ICD’s eCommerce website.

In September of 2010, ICD delivered their first full-line catalog to their existing customers in the pharmaceutical, food, power, wastewater, and commercial HVAC markets. The response from customers was tremendous. Customers cited the ease of use of the catalog and the web site as a major factor for continuing and expanding their partnerships with ICD. A digital version of the print catalog can be found here: