If you have ever visited some of the many castles around in Europe you may have noticed that there are many architectural similarities. You may also compare these basic structures of a castle with how we can imagine the data architecture related to Product Information Management (PIM).
In my vision of a product information castle there is a main building with five floors of product information. There is a basement for pricing information where we often will find the valuable things as the crown jewels and other treasures. The hierarchy tower combines the pricing information and the different levels of product information. Besides the main castle, we find the logistic stables.
What we do not see on this figure is the product lifecycle management wall around the castle area.
Now, let us get back to the main building and examine what is on each of the floors in the building.
On the ground level, we find the basic product data that typically is the minimum required for creating a product in any system of record. Here we find the primary product identification number or code that is the internal key to all other product data structures and transactions related to the product. Then there usually is a short product description. This description helps internal employees identifying a product and distinguishing that product from other products. If an upstream trading partner produces the product, we may find the identification of that supplier here. If the product is part of internal production, we may have a material type telling about if it is a raw material, semi-finished product, finished good or packing material.
Except for semi-finished products, we may find more things on the next floor.
This level has product data related to trading the product. We may have a unique Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) that may be in the form of an International Article Number (EAN) or a Universal Product Code (UPC). Here we have commodity codes and a lot of other product data that supports buying, receiving, selling and delivering the product.
Most castles were not build in one go. Many castles started modestly in maybe just two floors and a tiny tower. In the same way, our product information management solutions for finished and trading goods usually are built on the top of an elder ERP solution holding the basic and trading data.
On the third level, we find the two grand ballrooms of product information. These ballrooms were introduced when eCommerce started to grow up.
The extended product description is needed because the usual short product description used internally have no meaning to an outsider as told in the post Customer Friendly Product Master Data. Some good best practices for governing the extended product description is to have a common structure of how the description is written, not to use abbreviations and to have a strict vocabulary as reported in the post Toilet Seats and Data Quality.
Having a product image is pivotal if you want to sell something without showing the real product face-to-face with the customer or other end user. A missing product image is a sign of a broken business process for collecting product data as pondered in the post Image Coming Soon.
On the fourth level, we have three main chambers: Product attributes, basic product relations and standard digital assets.This data are the foundation of customer self-service and should, unless you are the manufacturer, be collected from the manufacturer via supplier self-service.
Product attributes are also sometimes called product properties or product features. These are up to thousands of different data elements that describes a product. Some are very common for most products like height, length, weight and colour. Some are very specific to the product category. This challenge is actually the reason of being for dedicated Product Information Management (PIM) solutions as told in the post MDM Tools Revealed.
Basic product relations are the links between a product and other products like a product that have several different accessories that goes with the product or a product being a successor of another now decommissioned product.
Standard digital assets are documents like installation guides, line drawings and data sheets as examined in the post Digital Assets and Product MDM.
On the upper fifth floor we find elements like on the fourth floor but usually these are elements that you won’t necessarily apply to all products but only to your top products where you want to stand out from the crowd and distance yourself from your competitors.
Special content are descriptions of and stories about the product above the hard features. Here you tell about why the product is better than other products and in which circumstances the product can to be used. A common aim with these descriptions is also Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
X-sell (cross-sell) and up-sell product relations applies to your particular mix of products and may be made subjective as for example to look at up-sell from a profit margin point of view. X-sell and up-sell relations may be defined from upstream by you or your upstream trading partners but also dripping down on the roof from the behaviour of your downstream trading partners / customers as manifested in the classic webshop message: “Those who bought product A also bought / looked at product B”.
Advanced digital assets are broader and more lively material than the hard fact line drawings and other documents. Increasingly newer digital media types as video are used for this purpose.
All in all the rooftop takes us to the upper side of the cloud.