Discovering the Fascinating Abilities of PIM Systems: A Trilix Interview with Akeneo

Trilix is an Akeneo Bronze Partner - reason enough to learn more about Akeneo’s PIM system! Akeneo has been in business for five years and has 40.000+ implementations in more than 165 countries, growing from a small French startup to one of the big international PIM providers. Tobias Schlotter, General Manager of Akeneo for the DACH region, reveals what he finds fascinating about PIM systems, why Akeneo is so unique and what users can look forward to this year.

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Trilix: Hello, Tobias. Please describe your role and your daily tasks - or rather challenges - at Akeneo.
Tobias Schlotter: “I've been employed at Akeneo since the end of 2015, but I’ve been working with Akeneo for more than three years. My responsibilities are focused on building the DACH region for Akeneo. Having started out as a one-man show - always carrying the great purple Akeneo flag in front of me - I have built a team of five members and our growth continues to accelerate. We are also constantly on the lookout to add enthusiastic and inspiring people to our team.”
Trilix: What fascinates you about PIM systems?
Tobias Schlotter: “PIM systems are fascinating tools to assists companies in becoming more successful. I find it intriguing that no two integrated PIMs are alike. The requirements differ tremendously from company to company and from industry sector to industry sector. It is also interesting that PIM technology has existed for over 15 years, but is not yet widely known or established.”
Trilix: What is Akeneo’s share of the current PIM provider market?
Tobias Schlotter: “This is a very difficult question because the PIM market is huge. We have a lot of competitors, especially in the German-speaking countries. To define a percentage of share is almost impossible. What I can say, however, is that Akeneo started with great success thanks to a great software and a great partner network. Working with companies like yourself, helps our customers to understand and value PIM and in turn increases our awareness and market share. Currently PIM is experiencing a new hype, which we see as building and expanding in the coming years.”
Trilix: How many developers work in the Akeneo Core team?
Tobias Schlotter: “More than 80 people work at Akeneo today and are located in France, Germany and America. Of these 80 employees, almost 20 are currently working in the area of product develop and management. By the end of this year this group will expand to 60 people who will work within and support the Akeneo Core team. This includes our product owners and product managers. At the end of 2017 Akeneo is projected to grow to 140 employees. Just to compare: when I joined Akeneo one and a half years ago, Akeneo employed around 50 people!”
Trilix: Since its start in year 2013, Akeneo has rapidly grown and expanded. How would you explain the impressive success of the company and what is your formula of success for winning new customers?
Tobias Schlotter: “I believe that our recipe for success lies, above all, in our understanding and approach to being the enterprise PIM for the marketer. This is top of mind for everyone across the team. As I said, there are numerous and very good PIM systems on the market, but there are only a few that really focus on the target group of the actual users. Akeneo is unique because we are enterprise-ready and open-source, which is another building block of our success. And Akeneo is designed for usability and scalability. We have clients managing over 20 million products with the Akeneo PIM. Not every system is able to achieve that volume. But clearly the core ingredient of our success, and our success in general, are our partners.”
Trilix: Akeneo PIM is available in an open source community edition as well as in an enterprise edition. What is the distribution of the implementations across both editions?
Tobias Schlotter: “Basically, at first you need know that Akeneo is still young, having been founded in 2013. Since then, there is the community edition available, which is the free, limited PIM version. Our enterprise edition exists only for a little more than two years. Altogether, there are more than 40,000 active installations of our community edition to date. This is a very impressive number for such a young software startup that was not founded in America. As for the enterprise edition, we have actually been able to win more than 150 customers of all sizes over the past two and a half years. These include really big companies like Samsung, John Deere and Universal Music, but also exciting online pure players such as Outfitter, Stylebob or Tierarzt24.”
Trilix: Based on your experience with both user groups, what is it that the users value most and what is it that they criticise or miss most about Akeneo?
Tobias Schlotter: “Most appreciated is certainly our great interface. The UI we provide is easily and intuitively usable. I cannot even remember the last time someone asked me if there is a manual for our software. This is, of course, a huge compliment, which I am always happily passing on to our product team. Following this, also very appreciated is Akeneo’s PIM because of its open source availability together with the flexibility and scalability that characterize the system.”
Trilix: A PIM-system alone does not yet lead to increasing product sales. How important is it for Akeneo to collaborate with e-commerce service providers such as Trilix?
Tobias Schlotter: “Thus far, this collaboration has been the reason for our success, simply our shared success. And, of course, it is the core of the coming future! So a PIM system, I agree, is not the hub of the universe, but it is quite an important component within the system landscape of a growth-oriented company. Equally I would also not see e-commerce stand alone as being sufficient for increasing sales success. Today, we are coping with the great challenges of omni and multi-channel marketing. In that it is overly important to have one central system - the single source of truth - for managing product information. In achieving that e-commerce providers such as Trilix are absolutely indispensable. You are the ones who talk to the companies and point out that perhaps the only missing thing in their e-commerce strategy is simply a PIM system. This is a real world situation which we as a system provider will never be able to cover sufficiently. Therefore, we are clearly committed to our partner network!"
Trilix: Within the Akeneo PIM several languages can be enabled. What can you tell me about the quality of the automatic translations of such domain-specific texts like product descriptions in Akeneo?
Tobias Schlotter: “First of all two things need to be distinguish here. On the one hand, there is the UI of Akeneo which is provided in several languages ​​and on the other hand, Akeneo offers many languages ​​for the product content. There are more than 210 so-called locales or regions that can be activated in Akeneo. This includes always a distinction between a language/country combination. For example, there is Germany/German, Switzerland/German and Austria/German. And everyone can unlock it as he or she likes. We have customers working with three locales only, but we do also have customers who have well around twenty locales activated. However, there is no automatic translation of product texts provided as such. The translation workflow either works manually or through one of our existing technology partners, such as translation.com or Textmaster.com which provide translation services with native speakers accordingly."
Trilix: Do you think a flexible extension of product text translations by providing for instance a Google Translate integration is conceivable or already in the process of planning?
Tobias Schlotter:No, we will not offer an automatic translation such as Google Translate or anything alike. With regard to the quality of the product text this would be a catastrophe. Although, there are a couple of customers whose implementation partners have installed it for them, but the content that it generates always makes me shudder. And I am sure the customers are feeling the same. With everything concerning an integration of, for example, Google Translate, I would be very careful because this completely contradicts the demands of premium quality and premium content. From our point of view, automatic translations are far from meeting the standards that we require for recommending them to our customers as publishable content.”
Trilix: In times of increasing product variety and ever shorter product releases, describing products poses a time-consuming tasks and, therefore, represents also a crucial cost factor for marketers. Do you think that future PIM systems will offer integrated NLP tool services such as spell-checking or even automatic content generation? Given that all product information is already provided in structured formats within the PIM system wouldn’t be NLP tool integration a worthwhile endeavor?
Tobias Schlotter: "Spelling checking is nowadays already working through browser integration. Since Akeneo is a browser application it works just like any e-mail program having an automatically activated system spell checker. The other topic, automatic content generation, is on the roadmap of our labs. Currently, we conduct very intense research to explore to what extent we can assist the customer in generating and qualifying even more efficiently data which eventually also leads to an easier categorization of products. In the future we or one of your partners will surely provide novelties in this area."
Trilix: In some product areas like tablets and smartphones, precise and extensive product information is already existing on the Web. What is your opinion on providing direct imports of such information from the manufacturers’ websites in order to enable an even more specific and above all faster creation of product information in Akeneo?
Tobias Schlotter: "This is practically what we do daily at Akeneo. We provide already ready connectors to CNET and IceCat which are two of the largest data suppliers for product information in Europe. Furthermore, we can connect with other product information providers. So right now it is already fairly simple to get the data you need for a certain product."
Trilix: This September the new Serenity Cloud edition will be released. Which new features will characterise this edition and which users are targeted with it?
Tobias Schlotter: "The new release of the Serenity version will come with so many great novelties, which I am, however, not allowed to share before the release. We like to create a little suspense! What I can say, though, is that it is worthwhile in any case to come to the dmexco in September in Cologne and drop by at our booth. There, we will be able to offer a preview of our next version which is two weeks before the official release. And I can promise: It's worth coming around not only to see the new release but to share a cocktail with us too! There are new features and exciting innovations for the end users. The new version is sensational!"
Trilix: From your point of view what is the most interesting Akeneo implementation?
Tobias Schlotter: "Each project is different and has different requirements. Simply saying: "This or that project is the most exciting or the most interesting." is very difficult. But looking at the past six months, I might have two favorites that I find particularly exciting with regard to the involved demands and the company itself. To be mentioned among them is certainly siroop in Switzerland, a very high-energy online marketplace. They are really great guys and girls who are setting up a terrific project that is very intricate and a great use for the Akeneo PIM and which is also strategically a very important part within their business strategy. The second "favorite project" is the Polo project. What I find particularly interesting here is the fact that three countries, France, Germany and Great Britain, are united with their respective product portfolios. In this case the PIM served as the starting point for this new company structure. Here, too, great people are involved in the project who rise to the challenges and are highly motivated. Of course, I enjoy to witness this process. Moreover, Polo will also be on the stage at dmexco to present their project."
Trilix: By now a large number of PIM systems have become established. What would you say distinguishes Akeneo’s PIM from other PIM systems? In other words: what is Akeneo’s unique selling point?
Tobias Schlotter: "This is relatively easy to answer. On the one hand, we are open source, which includes the already mentioned advantage of scalability. And that is not only promised - it is part of our products - BECAUSE: no customer and no product catalog is too big or too small. On the other hand, concerning usability, we are in clear contrast to other systems. People are looking forward to working with Akeneo PIM! To that adds the flexibility for the users: you can, for instance, create additional attributes, which is impossible in many other systems. What is more, Akeneo is "best of breed". In other words, we are focusing only on PIM and this we are doing pretty well. We are also state of the art. Because we have such a large community and such a great network of partners, this allows us to understand the needs of our customers and are able to quickly advance our software accordingly. Another key differentiator is definitely unlimited users. This is a huge competitive advantage that we have compared to other closed source PIM systems. The licensing models of many systems are based on the number of users. With our licensing model, we have a comparatively extremely attractive price-performance ratio. Also to mention is the choice we offer between the free and the paid version. The latter is available as the on-premise version, also in the cloud, as PAAS or as SAAS. Actually, we provide the right package for every customer.”
Trilix: To what innovations can Akeneo users and customers be looking forward to in the near future?
Tobias Schlotter: "To an even more improved usability. Although, it is already unique today, we will make it even better in the future. They can look forward to even better connectivity, more features that will facilitate everyday life, and, of course, our SAAS solution - the Serenity Mode of our PIM."
Trilix: Tobias, thanks a lot for this interview. All the best and continuing success for the future!