A2i’s xCat pounces on catalogs
Powerful, flexible suite consolidates and structures massive catalogs for all media
Catalogs these days can be broken into three main types: print, online, and CD-ROM. In many organizations, each type of catalog may be created and maintained by a different department, with lots of duplicated effort and duplicated data. A2i’s xCat 4.0 attempts to consolidate the production of all three types of catalogs and it succeeds admirably.
A2i comes from a background of supporting large industrial catalogs that may have hundreds of thousands of items. The xCat is a high-performance, highly scalable product.
xCat combines several functions, including a front end to a SQL database, a data mining and presentation tool, a table creation and formatting tool, media management and consolidation tools, and a catalog creation tool. It takes data from one or more sources, including SQL databases, documents stored on a server, media files stored on a server, and data presented through Web services or XML. Print, Web, and CD-ROM catalogs can be created easily. The data can be sorted by a wide variety of categories to create specialized catalogs. Graphics can be standardized for the type of catalog, and searches can be preconfigured for the end-user.
A few of xCat's tools perform their specialized functions so well that they would be noteworthy as separate products. The data mining tool quickly and easily refines databases with over 500,000 entries, narrowing a very large multivendor product database to allow users to find specific items in less than a second. The table creation and formatting tool is very easy to use. It creates elaborately formatted tables of any sort with a very minor learning curve. Finally, the data import tool allows data from several sources to be imported into a single database, and provides very simple standardization and mapping of fields to a single set. For example, data from different sources that used "U.S.," "United States," and "USA" could be rendered as a standard "U.S.A." in the consolidated data.
I set up the xCat system in my lab using a couple of large product databases that A2i gave me to pre-populate the catalog. Other than the necessary SQL server installation and initial database configuration, installation is straightforward. In fact, if the product data is not yet in a database, or is in multiple databases, xCat’s ability to act as a front end to a SQL database and to consolidate data from multiple sources should allow a very large catalog to be created with minimal database administrator support.
After the system was installed, I followed the steps to create a smaller, specialized catalog from a much larger one. I refined the catalog items from over 489,000 records to about 6,000. I then created formats for print and online catalogs, specified how to create the accompanying graphics, built the query structure for the catalog, and created the two catalogs. The process was simple and straightforward. Almost anyone, from a non-technical designer to an engineer, could use this product.