PIM Supplier Portals: Are They Good or Bad?

A recent discussion on the LinkedIn Multi-Domain MDM group is about vendor / supplier portals as a part of Product Information Management implementations.

A supplier portal (or vendor portal if you like) is usually an extension to a Product Information Management (PIM) solution. The idea is that the suppliers of products, and thus providers of product information, to you as a downstream participant (distributor or retailer) in a supply chain, can upload their product information into your PIM solution and thus relieving you of doing that. This process usually replace the work of receiving spreadsheets from suppliers in the many situations where data pools are not relevant.

In my opinion and experience, this is a flawed concept, because it is hostile to the supplier. The supplier will have hundreds of downstream receivers of products and thus product information. If all of them introduced their own supplier portal, they will have to learn and maintain hundreds of them. Only if you are bigger than your supplier is and is a substantial part of their business, they will go with you.

Broken data supply chainAnother concept, which is the opposite, is also emerging. This is manufacturers and upstream distributors establishing PIM customer portals, where suppliers can fetch product information. This concept is in my eyes flawed exactly the opposite way.

And then let us imagine that every provider of product information had their PIM customer portal and every receiver had their PIM supplier portal. Then no data would flow at all.

What is your opinion and experience?

What’s in an Address (and a Product)?

Our company Product Data Lake has relocated again. Our new address, in local language and format, is:

Havnegade 39
1058 København K
Danmark

If our address were spelled and formatted as in England, where the business plan was drafted, the address would have looked like this:

The Old Seed Office
39 Harbour Street
Copenhagen, 1058 K
Danelaw

Across the pond, a sunny address could look like this:

39 Harbor Drive
Copenhagen, CR 1058
U.S. Virgin Islands

copenhagen_havnegadeNow, the focal point of Product Data Lake is not the exciting world of address data quality, but product data quality.

However, the same issues of local and global linguistic and standardization – or should I say standardisation – issues are the same.

Our lovely city Copenhagen has many names. København in Danish. Köpenhamn in Swedish. Kopenhagen in German. Copenhague in French.

So have all the nice products in the world. Their classifications and related taxonomy are in many languages too. Their features can be spelled in many languages or be dependent of the country were to be sold. The documents that should follow a product by regulation are subject to diversity too.

Handling all this diversity stuff is a core capability for product data exchange between trading partners in Product Data Lake.

Painting WWII Bombers and Product Data: It Is All in the Details

Today’s guest blog post is from Dan O’Connor, a United States based product data taxonomy guru. Here are Dan’s thoughts on product data quality:

I have had a few days off this past week while I transition to a new role. During that time, I’ve had time to reflect on many things, as well as pursue some personal interests. I talked with peers and former co-workers, added a fresh coat of paint to my basement, and worked on some WWII era bomber models I purchased before Christmas but never had time for.

bomberpic1The third pursuit was a rather interesting lesson in paying attention to details. The instructions would say to paint an individual piece one color, but that piece would comprise of several elements that should never be painted a single color. For example, the flight yokes on Mitchell were planned to be painted black, but in viewing pictures online I saw that certain parts were white, red and aluminum. I therefore painted them appropriately. These yokes are less than an inch long and a couple millimeters wide, but became much more impressive with an appropriate smattering of color.

Flight Yokes and Product Taxonomies

It is this attention to detail that made me think about how product taxonomies are developed. Some companies just follow the instructions, and end up with figurative “black flight yokes”. These taxonomies perform adequately, allowing a base level of product detail to be established. Web sites and catalogs can be fed with data and all is well.

Other companies see past the black flight yokes. They need the red buttons, the white grips, and the silver knobs because they know these data points are what make their product data more real. They could have followed the instructions, but being better than the instructions was more important.

Imagine for a second that the instructions were the mother of the data and the plane itself was the father. According to the mother plain black flight yokes are sufficient. The father, while capable of being so much more, ends up with the dull data the mother provides. Similarly, if the plane/father has no options that allow it to be more colorful the instructions from the mother are meaningless beyond the most basic interpretations.

The Mother and Father of Product Data

To some my analogy might be a stretch, but think of it in these terms: Your product taxonomy is the mother of your product data, and the architecture that supports that taxonomy is the father. If your taxonomy only supports a generic level of data, the architecture supporting it cannot add more detail. If the architecture is limited the most robust product taxonomy will still only support the most basic of data. Your product data quality is limited by the taxonomy you build and the systems you use to manage it. If both are well-developed beautiful product data is born. If one or both is limited your product data will be an ugly mess.

Why is this important? Product data does more than validate the image has the right color on a web site, or make sure an item will fit in your kitchen or TV room. Product data feeds faceting experiences so that customers to your web site can filter down to the perfect product. Without facets customers have to search manually through more products, and may get frustrated and leave your web site before finding the item they want.

Product data also can feed web site search, allowing customers to find your products using product descriptors instead of just product numbers and short descriptions. These search options also filter out unnecessary results, allowing a customer to find the perfect product faster.

Product data might also be used by the marketplaces that sell your data, your catalogs, product data sheets, and even your shelf tags in your retail locations. Having one consistent source of data for those usages avoids customer confusion when they approach your business from an omni-channel perspective. Having to find a product on a shelf when the mobile experience has a different description is painful and leads to bad customer experiences.

Lastly, moving data between your business and others is problematic at the best of times. Poor product data leads to bad data dissemination, which leads to bad customer experiences across your syndication channels. If you cannot represent your data in a single logically message internally your external message will be chaotic and confusing for your guests.

The Elements of a Product Data Program

Therefore, creating a good product taxonomy is not just about hiring a bunch of taxonomists and having them create a product taxonomy. It is about taxonomy best practices, data governance, and understanding your entire product data usage ecosystem, both internally and externally. It is understanding what role Product Information Management systems play in data management, and more importantly what role they do not.

Therefore, in the analogy of a mother product taxonomy and a father architecture creating data, there are siblings, aunts, uncles, and other relatives to understand as well. A lack of understanding in any one of these relationships can cause adverse data quality issues to shine through. It is estimated that companies lose an average of $8 Million US dollars a year (ROI on Data Quality, 2014) due to data quality issues. Can your business afford to keep ignoring your product data issues?

Dan O’Connor is a Product Taxonomy, Product Information Management (PIM), and Product Data Consultant and an avid blogger on taxonomy topics. He has developed taxonomies for major retails as well as manufacturers and distributors, and assists with the development of product data models for large and small companies. See his LinkedIn bio for more information.

Party and Product: The Core Entities in Most Data Models

Party and product are the most frequent master data domains around.

Often you meet party as one of the most frequent party roles being customer and supplier (or vendor) or by another term related to the context as for example citizen, patient, member, student, passenger and many more. These are the people and legal entities we are interacting with and with whom we usually exchange money – and information.

Product (or material) is the things we buy, make and sell. The goods (or services) we exchange.

In my current venture called Product Data Lake our aim to serve the exchange of information about products between trading partners who are customers and suppliers in business ecosystems.

For that, we have been building a data model. Below you see our first developed conceptual data model, which has party and product as the core entities.

PDL concept model.png

As this is a service for business ecosystems, another important entity is the partnership between suppliers and customers of products and the information about the products.

The product link entity in this data model is handling the identification of products by the pairs of trading partners. In the same way, this data model has link entities between the identification of product attributes at pair of trading partners (build on same standards or not) as well as digital asset types.

If you are offering product information management services, at thus being a potential Product Data Lake ambassador, or you are part of a business ecosystem with trading partners, I will be happy to discus with you about adding handling of trading partnerships and product information exchange to your current model.

 

A Data Lake, Santa Style

Following up on last years post on Big Data Quality, Santa Style (and previous years of Santa style posts) it is time to see how Santa may utilize a data lake.

birthday presentsI imagine that handling product information must be a big pain point at the Santa Corporation. All the product information from suppliers of present items comes in using different standards and various languages. In the same way the wish lists from boys and girls comes in many languages and using many different wordings.

Forcing the same standard on all suppliers (and boys and girls) is quite utopic – even for Santa.

So using a data lake for product information seems to be a good choice, not at least if that data lake encompasses the whole business ecosystem around the Santa Corporation.

By joining Product Data Lake the Santa Corporation will put their required product portfolio and the needed attributes for the products into Product Data Lake in all the languages operated at Santa’s site.

The suppliers of toys, electronics, books, clothes and heaps of other nice things will by joining Product Data Lake in the same way put their products and the attributes offered into Product Data Lake.

In here, the products and attributes will be linked to the ones used by Santa. But this is only the beginning of a joyful ride. The products and attributes can also be linked to all the other trading partners on Product Data Lake, so the manufacturer will only have to upload this information once.

Ho ho ho. This year it is not only nice boys and girls that gets a present – and this year the right one -from Santa. Smart suppliers will get a big present too.