Merchants vs Manufacturers in the Information Age

Merchants sells the goods produced by manufacturers. In that game merchants and manufacturers are basically allies. Then of course the merchant’s profit may depend on the margin he can get between the manufacturers price to him and the merchant’s price to his customer. In that game, merchants and manufacturers are kind of enemies.

When it comes to providing product information to the end customers, merchants and manufacturers are allies too. The more complete product information placed in front of the end customer, the better. This is increasingly important today with more and more goods sold in self-service scenarios as in ecommerce.

standoffBut again, there seems to be an enemy angle here too. Who should have the burden of lifting product information as the manufacturers have it to the way it is presented at the point-of-sales provided by the merchant? Often this seems to be stalled in a standoff as described in the post Passive vs Active Product Information Exchange.

At Product Data Lake we offer merchants and manufacturers an honorable way out of this standoff:

Automatic for the People

R.E.M._-_Automatic_for_the_PeopleThe title of this blog post is the title of, in my rapid eye movements, one the best albums ever: Automatic for the People by R.E.M., which came out 25 years ago in 1992.

It began in manufacturing

Automation began in the manufacturing industry. Since then automation has been part of most other industries. Not at least within Information Technology, automation is part of the promise in almost every initiative.

When automating stuff, we should always be aware of not just automating old bad processes. To the most extreme, as Michael Hammer said back in 1990: Don’t Automate, Obliterate.

However, some of the most successful companies today are companies born in the information age and delivering services that in a high degree automates processes of value to their customers based on working intensively with information technology.

How can we close the loop and bring that kind of modern automation back to where it began: In the manufacturing industry? The challenges of doing that was examined by Harri Juntunen in a guest blog post called Data Born Companies and the Rest of Us.

IT will come back to manufacturing

In all humbleness we want to be part of that endeavor at Product Data Lake. Therefore, we are setting up a Product Data Push solution for manufacturers, in order to solve one of most severe issues for manufacturers today, being a dysfunctional flow of product information out to whoever is managing the point of sales for the produced goods.

Automation is the end goal. But in order to get started, we accept upload of product information in whatever format, structure and state it is available in. We will then get it in shape to be pulled by retailers, etailers and other trading partners. We will use manual workforce for that and we will use Artificial Intelligence for that too. And in the end, it will be automatic for the people.

Obstacles to Product Information Sharing

In a recent poll on this blog we had this question about how to share product information with trading partners:

As a manufacturer: What is Your Toughest Product Information Sharing Issue?

The result turned out as seen below:

Survey final

Product information flow in supply chains will typically start with that manufacturers shares the detailed hard facts about products to the benefit of downstream partners as examined in the post Using Internal and External Product Information to Win.

This survey points to that the main reason why this does that take place is that manufacturers need to mature in handling and consolidating product information internally, before they are confident in sharing the detailed data elements (in an automated way) with their downstream partners. This subject was elaborated in the post Product Information Sharing Issue No 1: We Need to Mature Internally.

Another obstacle is the lack of a common standard for product information in the business ecosystem where the manufacturer is a part as further examined in the post Product Information Sharing Issue No 2: No Viable Standard.

Issue no 3 is the apparent absence of a good solution for sharing product information with trading partners that suites the whole business ecosystem. I guess it is needless to say to regular readers of this blog that, besides being able to support issue no 1 and issue no 2, that solution is Product Data Lake.

The days of castle and moat are over, just as brick and mortar is slowly diminishing too

A recent post called Ecosystem Architecture is replacing Enterprise Architecture from Oliver Cronk of Deloitte has these statements:

Kronborg_Castle“Organisations need architectural thinking beyond their organisational boundaries” and “The days of Enterprise Architecture taking a castle and moat approach are over”.

The end of the castle and moat thinking in Enterprise Architecture (and Business Information Architecture) is also closely related to the diminished importance of the brick and mortar ways of selling, being increasingly overtaken by eCommerce.

However, some figures I have noticed that cause the brick and mortar way to resist the decline by still having a castle and moat thinking is:

Retailers, distributors and manufacturers need to move on from the castle and moat thinking in Enterprise Architecture and Business Information Architecture and start interacting effectively in their business ecosystems with product information.

This is the thinking behind Product Data Lake. You can keep your castle by breaking down the walls and replace the moat with a stream as shown in our 5 + 5 Business Benefits.

Product Information Sharing Issue No 1: We Need to Mature Internally

A current poll on sharing product information with trading partners running on this blog has this question: As a manufacturer: What is Your Toughest Product Information Sharing Issue?

The most votes in the current standing has gone to this answer:

We must first mature in handling our product information internally

PDL MenuSolving this issue is one of the things we do at Liliendahl.com. Besides being an advisory service in the Master Data Management (MDM) and Product Information Management (PIM) space, we have a developing collaboration with companies providing consultancy, cleansing and, when you come to that step, specialized technology for inhouse MDM and PIM. Take a look at Our Business Ecosystem.

If you are a manufacturer with a limited need for scaling the PIM technology part and already have much of your needs covered by an ERP and/or Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution, you may also fulfill your inhouse PIM capabilities and the external sharing needs in one go by joining Product Data Lake.

Your Toughest Upstream Product Information Sharing Issue

Only 5 percent of organizations share all their product data electronically with supply chain partners. So, there is room for improvement.

At Product Data Lake we want to find out what are the issues that is holding companies back from smoothly sharing product information with trading partners.

We will start with where product information is born: Upstream, at the manufacturer. If you work at a company being a manufacturer of goods, please answer the below question:

PS: If you do not work for a manufacturer, but know someone who does, please forward the poll.

Don’t put Lipstick on a PIM

The other day Shamanth Shankar of Riversand Technologies published a blog post called The Beautiful and the Geek: From Mascara to Managing Data.

In this post Shamanth, exemplified with mascara products, discusses how PIM (Product Information Management) as an enterprise solution helps with effective data management, cutting down new product introduction timelines, multi-channel content management, adhering to regulations and facilitating advanced data analytics.

I agree with all the goodness gained from an enterprise PIM solution for these matters. PIM is the new bacon.

However, in the end Shamanth mentions PIM vendor portals: “The Vendor portal automates the product onboarding process and significantly cuts down operating costs by allowing Vendors to upload complete and curated product data, in bulk, into the system.”

pig-lipstickI am sorry to say that I think that using a PIM vendor (or supplier) portal is like lipstick on a pig.

The concept looks tempting by first glance. But it is a flawed concept. The problem is that it is hostile to your trading partners. Your upstream trading partner may have hundreds of downstream trading partners and if every one of these offers their vendor (supplier) portal, they will have to learn and update into hundreds of different portals.

All these portals will have a different look and feel coming from many different PIM solution providers.

The opposite concept, having suppliers providing their customer product data portals, has the same flaw, just the other way around.

The best solution is having a PIM vendor neutral hub sitting in the product information exchange zone. This is the idea behind Product Data Lake.