The Pain of Getting Product Information from Your Suppliers

If you are a merchant (retailer or a B2B dealer) of tangible goods a huge challenge in today’s data driven world is the get complete product information from your suppliers being the importers, brand owners and/or manufacturers of the products.

There are plenty of bad ways of trying to do that:

  • Send them a spreadsheet to be filled in
  • Build a supplier portal where they can do the work
  • Get the data from a data pool
  • Outsource the collection process to someone far away

Sean Sinclair sums this up nicely in the LinkedIn article called Feeding the Monster – Product Data Onboarding for ‘Hundreds and Thousands’…

Coincidentally Sean and I at the same time worked with these challenges at two different major competing UK distributors/dealers of building materials up in the West Midlands.

The only solution will be to create a win-win situation for both manufacturers and merchants as explained in the post Merchants vs Manufacturers in the Information Age.

Standoff both sides narrow

Top 15 MDM / PIM Requirements in RFPs

A Request for Proposal (RFP) process for a Master Data Management (MDM) and/or Product Information Management (PIM) solution has a hard fact side as well as there are The Soft Sides of MDM and PIM RFPs.

The hard fact side is the detailed requirements a potential vendor has to answer to in what in most cases is the excel sheet the buying organization has prepared – often with the extensive help from a consultancy.

Here are what I have seen as the most frequently included topics for the hard facts in such RFPs:

  • MDM and PIM: Does the solution have functionality for hierarchy management?
  • MDM and PIM: Does the solution have workflow management included?
  • MDM and PIM: Does the solution support versioning of master data / product information?
  • MDM and PIM: Does the solution allow to tailor the data model in a flexible way?
  • MDM and PIM: Does the solution handle master data / product information in multiple languages / character sets / script systems?
  • MDM and PIM: Does the solution have capabilities for (high speed) batch import / export and real-time integration (APIs)?
  • MDM and PIM: Does the solution have capabilities within data governance / data stewardship?
  • MDM and PIM: Does the solution integrate with “a specific application”? – most commonly SAP, MS CRM/ERPs, SalesForce?
  • MDM: Does the solution handle multiple domains, for example customer, vendor/supplier, employee, product and asset?
  • MDM: Does the solution provide data matching / deduplication functionality and formation of golden records?
  • MDM: Does the solution have integration with third-party data providers for example business directories (Dun & Bradstreet / National registries) and address verification services?
  • MDM: Does the solution underpin compliance rules as for example data privacy and data protection regulations as in GDPR / other regimes?
  • PIM: Does the solution support product classification and attribution standards as eClass, ETIM (or other industry specific / national standards)?
  • PIM: Does the solution support publishing to popular marketplaces (form of outgoing Product Data Syndication)?
  • PIM: Does the solution have a functionality to ease collection of product information from suppliers (incoming Product Data Syndication)?

Learn more about how I can help in the blog page about MDM / PIM Tool Selection Consultancy.

MDM PIM RFP Wordle

PIM and PDS

Product Information Management (PIM) has a sub discipline called Product Data Syndication (PDS).

PIM and PDS

While PIM basically is about how to collect, enrich, store and publish product information within a given organization, PDS is about how to share product information between trading partners. One challenge here is that two trading partners very seldom use the same product classification system(s), taxonomy and structure for product information.

Some PIM vendors offer PDS as extensions to their PIM offerings. Examples are Stibo Systems and Salsify. Other MDM (Master Data Management) / PIM vendors are facilitating PDS through general data integration services in their wider data management offerings. Examples are Informatica and Dell Boomi.

Product Data Synchronization is a variant concept of PDS. The most known service is the Global Data Synchronization Network (GSDN) operated by GS1 through data pool vendors, where 1WorldSync is the dominant one. In here trading partners are following the same classification, taxonomy and structure for a group of products (typically food and beverage) and their most common attributes in use in a given geography.

However, from working as a consultant in the MDM and PIM space i know that there are lots of organizations who cannot utilize the current offerings in a cost effective way and having all their needs for covering the many product attributes you need to share today as well as product relationships and the related digital assets. This is the reason why we have launched a Product Data Syndication service called Product Data Lake.

The Need for Speed in Product Information Flow

One of the bottlenecks in Product Information Management (PIM) is getting product data ready for presentation to the buying audience as fast as possible.

Product data travels a long way from the origin at the manufacturing company, perhaps through distributors and wholesalers to the merchant or marketplace. In that journey the data undergo transformation (and translation) from the state it has at the producing organization to the state chosen by the selling organization.

However, time to market is crucial. This applies to when a new product range is chosen by the merchant or when there are changes and improvements at the manufacturer.

At Product Data Lake we enable a much faster pace in these quests than when doing this by using emails, spreadsheets and passive portals.

Take two minutes to test if your company is exchanging product data at the speed of a cheetah or a garden snail.

Cheetah

To use Excel or not to use Excel in Product Information Management?

Excel is used heavily throughout data management and this is true for Product Information Management (PIM) too.

The reason of being for PIM solutions is often said to be to eliminate the use of spreadsheets. However, PIM solutions around have functionality to co-exist with spreadsheets, because spreadsheets are still a fact of life.

This is close to me as I have been working on a solution to connect PIM solutions (and other solutions for handling product data) between trading partners. This solution is called Product Data Lake.

Our goal is certainly also to eliminate the use of spreadsheets in exchanging product information between trading partners. However, as an intermediate state we must accept that spreadsheets exists either as the replacement of PIM solutions or because PIM solutions does not (yet) fulfill all purposes around product information.

So, consequently we have added a little co-existence with Excel spreadsheets in today´s public online release of Product Data Lake version 1.10.

PDL version 1 10

The challenge is that product information is multi-dimensional as we for example have products and their attributes typically represented in multiple languages. Also, each product group has its collection of attributes that are relevant for that group of products.

Spreadsheets are basically two dimensional – rows and columns.

In Product Data Lake version 1.10 we have included a data entry sheet that mirrors spreadsheets. You can upload a two-dimensional spreadsheet into a given product group and language, and you can download that selection into a spreadsheet.

This functionality can typically be used by the original supplier of product information – the manufacturer. This simple representation of data will then be part of the data lake organisation of varieties of product information supplemented by digital assets, product relationships and much more.

1,000 Blog Posts and More to Come

number_1000I just realized that this post will be number 1,000 published on this blog. So, let me not say something new but just recap a little bit on what it has been all about in the last nearly 10 years of running a blog on some nerdy stuff.

Data quality has been the main theme. When writing about data quality one will not avoid touching Master Data Management (MDM). In fact, the most applied category used here on this site, with 464 and counting entries, is Master Data.

The second most applied category on this blog is, with 219 entries, Data Architecture.

The most applied data quality activity around is data matching. As this is also where I started my data quality venture, there has been 192 posts about Data Matching.

The newest category relates to Product Information Management (PIM) and is, with 20 posts at the moment, about Product Data Syndication.

Even though that data quality is a serious subject, you must not forget to have fun. 66 posts, including a yearly April Fools post, has been categorized as Supposed to be a Joke.

Thanks to all who are reading this blog and not least to all who from time to time takes time to make a comment, like and share.

Supply Chain Participants and PIM Requirements

A recent post on this blog was called B2C vs B2B in Product Information Management. This post was my take on the differences, if any, between doing Product Information Management (PIM) in a Business-to-Consumer (B2C) scenario versus in a Business-to-Business (B2B) scenario.

In a comment in the Product Information Management Professional Association group on LinkedIn Hans de Gier of SyncForce replied:

“For many of our B2B customers information plays a bigger role in the Market-to-Order process than for consumer products. But most of our customers (Consumer & Professional Packaged Goods Manufacturers) serve both retail and professional/wholesale channels, which have different information needs, even regarding the same products. So, any manufacturer targeted solution should be able to serve both channels with the right content via the right data channels. In our vision a more relevant question is: What is your take on the differences on doing PIM in Manufacturing versus Wholesale / Retail.”

Indeed, there are several ways to slice the PIM space and the supply chain position of a company as a supply chain delegate is for sure very relevant. Exchanging product information between trading partners in upstream and downstream (and midstream) positions must be very flexible and one size fits all thinking will not work.

The different positions of a company as they are in my mind is illustrated below:

supply chain

The possible combinations when exchanging product information between supply chain delegates are plentiful. To mention a few channels:

  • Manufacturer to wholesaler to retailer to end private consumer
  • Manufacturer to distributor to dealer to end business customer
  • Manufacturer to distributor to dealer to manufacturer as raw material
  • Manufacturer to merchant to marketplace to end customer
  • Manufacturer to marketplace to end customer
  • Manufacturer to/from brand owner to any midstream/downstream delegate

This variety is why the means of exchanging product information (product data syndication) between trading partners is essential in almost any PIM solution.

At Product Data Lake we offer the remedy to this challenge and in combination with any PIM solution or other application where in-house product information is managed.

B2C vs B2B in Product Information Management

The difference between doing Business-to-Consumer (B2C) or Business-to-Business (B2B) reflects itself in many IT enabled disciplines.

Yin and yangWhen it comes to Product Information Management (PIM) this is true as well. As PIM has become essential with the rise of eCommerce, some of the differences are inherited from the eCommerce discipline. There is a discussion on this in a post on the Shopify blog by Ross Simmonds. The post is called B2B vs B2C Ecommerce: What’s The Difference?

Some significant observations to go into the PIM realm is that for B2B, compared to B2C:

  • The audience is (on average) narrower
  • The price is (on average) higher
  • The decision process is (on average) more thoughtful

How these circumstances affect the difference for PIM was exemplified here on the blog in the post Work Clothes versus Fashion: A Product Information Perspective.

To sum up the differences I would say that some of the technology you need, for example PIM solutions, is basically the same but the data to go into these solutions must be more elaborate and stringent for B2B. This means that for B2B, compared to B2C, you (on average) need:

  • More complete and more consistent attributes (specifications, features, properties) for each product and these should be more tailored to each product group.
  • More complete and consistent product relations (accessories, replacements, spare parts) for each product.
  • More complete and consistent digital assets (images, line drawings, certificates) for each product.

How to achieve that involves deep collaboration in the supply chains of manufacturers, distributors and merchants. The solutions for that was examined in the post The Long Tail of Product Data Synchronization.

The Long Tail of Product Data Synchronization

When discussing with peers and interested parties about Product Data Lake, some of the alternatives are often brought up. These are EDI and GDSN.

So, what is the difference between those services and Product Data Lake.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is the concept of businesses electronically communicating information that was traditionally communicated on paper, such as purchase orders and invoices. EDI also has a product catalog functionality encompassing:

  • Seller name and contact information
  • Terms of sale information, including discounts available
  • Item identification and description
  • Item physical details including type of packaging
  • Item pricing information including quantity and unit of measure

The Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) is an internet-based, interconnected network of interoperable data pools and a global registry known as the GS1 Global Registry, that enables companies around the globe to exchange standardised and synchronised supply chain data with their trading partners using a standardised Global Product Classification (GPC).

This service focuses on retail, healthcare, food-service and transport / logistics. In some geographies GS1 is also targeting DIY – do it yourself building materials and tools for consumers.

Product Data Lake is a cloud service for sharing product information (product data syndication) in the business ecosystems of manufacturers, distributors / wholesalers, merchants, marketplaces and large end users of product information.

Our vision is that Product Data Lake will be the process driven key service for exchanging any sort of product information within business ecosystems all over the world, with the aim of optimally assist self-service purchase – both B2C and B2B – of every kind of product.

In that way, Product Data Lake is the long tail of product data synchronization supplementing EDI and GDSN for a long range of product groups, product attributes, digital assets, product relationships and product classification systems:

EDI GDSN PDLFind out more in the Product Data Lake Overview.