SEMA News—July 2013

By Jon Wyly

Owning Your Data Is Owning Your Future

Jon WylyBritish computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the World Wide Web in 1989 when he implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol client and a server via the Internet. He had this to say about data ownership: “Customers need to be given control of their own data—not being tied into a certain manufacturer so that when there are problems they are always obliged to go back to them.”

With that in mind, I selected the words in the title of this article very carefully. “Owning Your Data Is Owning Your Future.” Seems simple enough, and certainly makes sense. But think about the reciprocal meaning of that statement. If someone else owns your data, someone else owns your future. Yep, that’s a scary thought.

Now what I really want to talk about isn’t another lecture about data ownership, but rather how ownership of your data can define the future of your business. Ownership of the process. Ownership of the results. And the control that ownership of your data enables.

Let’s break it down.

In our industry, product data is essentially made up of two very broad segments: the foundational “industry standard” data that defines all the details, fitment, basic descriptions and more found in most data sets, and a second level I’ll call “enhanced” data. More specifically, we’re talking about content.

Managing the foundational data is a chore, albeit a necessary one. You just can’t power business systems, websites, warehouse operations and more without part numbers, DIMS, hazmat codes, order quantities, UPC codes and the like. If your parts are vehicle specific, you have to gather and maintain vehicle fitment information along with that.

This is all stuff that in one way or another you already know (or should know) about your parts. So doesn’t it seem a little ridiculous to expect someone else to “create” that data for you? Remember what I said about “someone else” at the start of this article. All of this represents the concrete foundation of your business and should be constructed with care, precision and dedication. Maintain it like you would your bank balance or your inventory. It’s that important!


Your brand is one of your most valuable assets, and you should guard its integrity with everything you have. Lose control of your marketing and you will lose control of your business. 

Think about the second part—enhanced data or content—as the framing, architectural details and paint that you put on that foundation. It’s the color, flavor and uniqueness that distinguish you from your competition. Informative, complete descriptions, features and benefits, product details, attributes and more translate into colorful, complete, confidence-inspiring presentations that not only sell more parts, but also keep them sold because consumers understood exactly what they were getting.

Now imagine a scenario where you don’t provide quality product data to the marketplace but rather leave the resellers to their own devices to acquire product information. Information they will use to describe, market and promote your products. Information that is gathered, written and openly used without the benefit of having come from the manufacturer or originator of the product. Do you think Coca Cola or Tommy Hilfiger or Chevrolet would ever put their companies in that position? Of course not, and neither should you. Your brand is one of your most valuable assets, and you should guard its integrity with everything you have. Lose control of your marketing and you will lose control of your business.

So there you have it. One man’s opinion, based on a lot of experience, about the importance of data authorship and ownership. Anything less than keeping that control will cost you money and customers in the long run and might even wreck your chances at success. And just in case you are sitting there thinking, “We made it just fine this far,” my advice is to step up and join the 21st century. The volume of data flow today is exponentially greater than it was just a few years ago, and it’s a game changer. Own the process, own the data and own your future.

To learn more about how you can take control of your product data and manage it at the lowest possible cost, contact SEMA Data Co-op Director of Membership Jim Graven via e-mail at or by phone at 888-958-6698 x4.

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