Client Success Story

Dakota Systems Helps Agilent Technologies Accelerate Digital Transformation

by | Feb 18, 2020 | 0 comments

When Agilent Technologies, a leading manufacturer of laboratory instruments, needed help updating their digital content strategy in order to better connect with their customers, they contacted Dakota Systems.

“Agilent had gone through several organizational changes,” said Michael Conant, the Director of Digital Strategy, Planning, and Architecture at Agilent. “Agilent spun off a part of the group that was a very different business, and this increased our focus as a life-sciences company. We knew we were moving into a much more integrated and targeted market, and we knew that our digital infrastructure wasn’t sufficient for that market.”

Victoria Manassero Maat, the Director of Agilent’s Content Center of Excellence, explained that the challenge for Agilent was transitioning from a marketing website focused primarily on instruments, to creating a digital platform that would integrate all the information about instruments, accessories, supplies, and services that customers required to solve problems.

“The traditional model at Agilent had been white-glove sales of high-end equipment,” Manassero Maat explained, “but we weren’t putting energy into all of the product content so that customers would hit both the traditional and online sales channels.”

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“What struck me most about Dakota was their
ability to articulate a more integrated view of
how PIM is key for tying together content
strategies for the company. That’s a key reason
we decided to work with Dakota.”

The other challenge was content: Agilent had to do a better job of meeting customer demand for detailed product specifications and supporting information about services and supplies.

“Our customers were looking for deep product content,” Manassero Maat said. Instead, she noted, “We had marketing information on the product pages, which didn’t give our customers the information they needed. And our product pages didn’t tell customers what related products were, and whether the product had been updated or was no longer available.”

“So we had a problem,” Manassero Maat continued, “and we didn’t know how to solve the problem.”

Agilent knew that Product Information Management (PIM) was key to driving the changes they needed to remain successful in a market where sales of scientific instruments were increasingly moving to digital platforms. Agilent had been using PIM for over 10 years to drive print catalogs, their online store for consumables, and some of their product pages. They needed to become more efficient at using PIM for omnichannel communication. But the challenge went beyond merely improving the information architecture at Agilent.

“A lot of people on the PIM side are just trying to figure out how to get stuff sold, how to get on Amazon,” Conant explained. “We were asking questions at a different level than that. We were asking, ‘How can we organize an information system as a company, when we have a number of different product divisions operating in their own silos, using their own language? How do we synthesize all that Agilent does, to create an integrated experience for our customers?’” Conant said that he spoke to several companies that provided PIM consulting and information architecture services. What stood out about Dakota was their ability to understand and focus on the broader digital and content strategies for Agilent.

“What struck me most about Dakota was their ability to articulate not just an understanding of how PIM works, but a more integrated view of how PIM is key for tying together the rest of the content strategies we had for the company. Very few people know how to talk about both of those sides well, and that’s a key reason we decided to work with Dakota. They helped communicate a vision that was an inspiration for the entire organization.”

The task of reorganizing  Agilent’s large catalog of scientific instruments, expanding the detail and depth of product content, and cross-linking instruments to Agilent supplies and services required an overhaul of Agilent’s information architecture.

“A central challenge Agilent had was generating customer experiences that required consumable products and instrument products to be related to each other in a compelling way,” explained Ryan Loechl, a senior consultant for Dakota Systems. “Agilent wanted to support experiences like crossselling and up-selling, and otherwise run the gamut of product recommendations. They wanted to support alternative ways to navigate to products through secondary hierarchies in PIM. They wanted to enable search to function more optimally.”

To meet these goals, Dakota developed a new logical data model for PIM that could support Agilent’s diverse product portfolio, relate products to each other in new ways, and relate products to applications and solutions. Next, Dakota defined detailed technical attributes for over 500 product categories to support search, filtering, and comparisons on product pages. But most importantly, Dakota had to cultivate buy-in across different levels of the company, to get them fully engaged in doing the new and different work required by the new digital strategy.

“For Agilent, this change was a big jump up on the learning curve,” said Joyce Pollock, a project manager for Dakota Systems. “We were educating a lot of people at Agilent about this change. We framed that change as the company moving to better digital enablement, and incorporated PIM as one of the steps in that journey.”

Victoria Manassero Maat said that Dakota’s patience, as well as their efforts to frame and reframe the digital transition in new ways, was central to the project’s success.

“The true strength of Dakota is that they kept their head in the game for so long,” said Manassero Maat. “Everyone on the team at Dakota was kind, and motivational, and able to repeat the information in different ways until everyone at Agilent fully understood the purpose of the program. It was not just helping the digital team manage this transition, but really digging in to help the business side of Agilent understand the importance and value of the service they were providing.”

“Dakota’s ability to crack the code on what product management cared about, and to make it clear to the product teams that Dakota was protecting that, was key to the success of this
project.”

As product teams move through the program with Dakota, Agilent has been progressively replacing their legacy manually crafted marketing web pages with content-rich, PIM-driven product detail pages. The resulting product pages meet consumer demands for deep product information and links between products, supplies, and services. The PIM team also has an information architecture that is easier to manage and better able to incorporate new products, services, and acquisitions. As they enter the eighteenth month of their partnership, Dakota is completing work on the final sections of the Agilent product portfolio and integrating products from companies that Agilent has acquired. Dakota plans to help Agilent with other content strategy needs, including knowledge management for supporting sales and service. 

 As a result of the PIM Acceleration Program, Agilent Technologies has consistent and effective product information for all channels. The results are better teamwork between product managers and the digital teams; the more efficient launch of products into all channels; more cross-selling of supplies, services, and spare parts; improved website navigation; improved SEO; and improved site search. All of these benefits add up to create a dramatically better customer experience, which drives loyalty and revenue.

How does Dakota Systems get a company to understand the value of better digital content? By showing them the numbers.

Agilent Technologies is a leading manufacturer of high-end instruments that life scientists around the world use to conduct cutting-edge research. When Agilent revamped their content strategy, they knew that they needed better links between content about their instruments and the supplies and services needed to solve customer problems. But the road from identifying a problem to getting buy-in on a solution across the company can be long.

“Where the Dakota team really helped was bridging the gap between where Agilent was today and where we wanted to be,” said Michael Conant, Director of Digital Strategy, Planning, and Architecture at Agilent Technologies. “Dakota showed us maturity models of how the kind of information architecture solutions they were putting forward had impacted our competitors, and they framed the problem in terms of what our customers were trying to do on our platforms.”

As digital content becomes ever more critical to B2B buyers’ purchase decisions, it is crucial for businesses to evolve their digital content strategies, rooted in an understanding of what customers need and how they can reach them.

“Dakota provided metric-oriented tie-ins that helped the people at Agilent get why this was important,” Conant explained. “They did a deep dive analysis of our website, looking at data around time-on page and trying to tie that back to what a good page should look like, and communicating some of the behind-the-scenes elements that make for a strong online platform.”

Dakota’s ability to demonstrate an understanding of not only the nuts-and-bolts of information architecture, but how it supported a large corporation’s digital business strategy, is what got buy-in from Agilent.

“We have a complex business at Agilent,” Conant said, “with brilliant people who are extremely knowledgeable in their field of expertise. It is exceedingly difficult to sell ‘change’ to an audience of very bright people, and it is difficult to sell change to a company as diverse as Agilent. But Dakota was able to crack the code. They had the ability to articulate not just an understanding of how Product Information Management (PIM) works, but an integrated view of why this is a key element for tying together the rest of the content strategies we had in mind.

Dakota has helped companies like Agilent Technologies, Polaris, CommScope, Kohler, and TE Connectivity develop product information strategies that work.

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