Most of the focus on business-to-business e-commerce is on supply chain management and Web services, with little thought given to actual product catalogs. This is despite the fact that such catalogs are the backbone of B2B for many businesses, especially those in the manufacturing sector.
This xCat update from A2i (www.a2i.com) is a powerful system for creating, managing and deploying complex and large product catalogs. Although the product could use more flexible management options, we found it to be very capable for handling the most demanding catalog needs.
EVALUATION SHORT LIST
When it comes down to it, B2B is about one company buying a product from another company—and being able to find the right products for its needs. For these suppliers, A2i Inc.s xCat 4.0, available now, provides powerful product catalog content management that can handle large and disparate catalogs and deliver them to a number of formats.
A2is products come from the realm of manufacturing product catalogs, massive tomes that can easily rival the New York phone book in size and weight. One strength of xCats design is its ability to handle multiple distributions from the same database, whether the content is intended for the Web, print or CD-ROM.
Pricing for xCat 4.0 starts at a competitive $50,000, with additional costs based on the modules purchased and the number of SKUs managed by the system.
xCat includes a server component, which can run on Windows, Linux and Unix servers, and several Windows-based administration clients. Although these clients worked well in tests, especially considering the complex nature of some of the product relationships and settings, we would also like to see some Web-based administration options, which are common in other content management and B2B applications. The xCat system works with Microsoft Corp.s SQL Server, IBMs DB2 and Oracle Corp. databases.
The xCat Console is one of the main administrative interfaces. From this console, we could manage the server and load and mount product databases in an interface similar to database managers such as those in SQL Server and Oracle.
However, the true management interface for the system is the xCat Client. From this interface, we could handle extremely detailed product and catalog settings and could define a number of key parameters, including improved options for setting up relationships among products.
We could also define layouts, which control how catalogs are delivered to the Web and to digital media, and could create publications, which control how content was delivered to print catalogs. We liked many of the options for creating print catalogs, which let us use the same data sets as in other areas while accommodating the different design requirements of print. In this version, xCat has also improved its integration with desktop publishing applications such as Quark Inc.s QuarkXPress and Adobe Systems Inc.s InDesign.
One of xCat 4.0s greatest strengths is its catalog search options. Whether we were searching through the client or through a Web interface, we received fast responses to our queries. We also liked the drill-down options provided by the interface.
In addition to the main components, several other options can be added to the xCat system. These include the xCat Import Manager, which makes it possible to import large data sets from a number of formats; a syndicator, which makes it possible to deliver catalog information through traditional B2B systems; and a set of APIs for doing integration with third-party systems.
East Coast Technical Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at email@example.com.