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.

Room for Improvement in the PIM World

Ventana Stibo ReportThe analyst firm Ventana Research recently made a report called The Next Generation of Product Information Management with the subtitle Maximizing the Potential Value of Products for Customers and Suppliers.

One, perhaps shocking, number mentioned in the report is that there is “room for improvement, as only 5 percent of organizations share all their product data electronically with supply chain partners”.

However, this resonates very well with my experience, as it has been hard to find a good way to share all kind of product information electronically with all your trading partners, as:

  • The most common used way today is exchanging spreadsheets, which is cumbersome and error prone and therefore many companies experience that it simply is not done or only done partly and certainly not timely.
  • Using consensus data pools (eg GS1 GDSN) only covers a fraction of product groups and product data elements with varying penetration and coverage in different geographies
  • Providing supplier product data portals (and customer product data portals) is a flawed one-sided concept as discussed in the post PIM Supplier Portals: Are They Good or Bad?

This is the reason why Product Data Lake has been launched.

You can get an 18 pager write up of the research report free from Stibo Systems here.

PS: If you are a PIM solution vendor or a PIM system integrator you can, as a legal entity, help with and gain from filling this room by becoming a Product Data Lake Commissioner.

Three Ways of Finding a Product

One goal of Product Information Management (PIM) is to facilitate that consumers of product information can find a product they are looking for. Facilitating that includes feasible functionality and optimal organization of data.

Search

There is a whole industry making software that helps with searching for products as touched in the post Search and if you are lucky you will find.

However, even the best error tolerant and super elastic search engines are dependent on the data to search on and are challenged by differences in the taxonomy used by the one who searches and the taxonomy used in the product data.

As we are being better at providing more and more data about products that also makes issues in searching, as we are getting more and more hits of which many are irrelevant for the intention of a given search.

Drill down

You can start by selecting in what main group of products you are looking for something and then drill down through a more and more narrow classification.

Again, this approach is challenged by different perspectives of product grouping and even if we are looking for standards, there are too many of them as described in the post Five Product Classification Standards.

Traverse

The term traverse has (or will) become trendy with the introduction of graph technology. By using graph technology in Product Information Management (PIM) you will have a way of overcoming the challenges related to using search or drill down when looking for a product.

Big HammerFinding a product has in many use cases the characteristic of that we know some pieces of information and want to find a product that match those pieces of information, but often expressed in a different way. This fit very well with the way graph technology works by having a given set of root nodes from where we traverse through edges and nodes (also called vertices) until we end at reachable nodes of the wanted type.

In doing that we will be able to translate between different wording, classifications and languages.

At Product Data Lake we are currently exploring – or should I say traversing – this space. I will very much welcome your thoughts on this subject.

Using Internal and External Product Information to Win

When working with product information I usually put the data into this five level model:

Five levels

The model is explained in the post Five Product Data Levels.

As a downstream participant in supply chains being a distributor or retailer your success is dependent on if you can do better than other businesses (increasingly including marketplaces) of your kind fighting over the same customer prospects. One weapon in doing that is using product information.

Here you must consider where you should use industry wide available data typically coming from the manufacturer and where you should create your own data.

I usually see that companies tend to use industry wide available data in the blue section below:

Internal and external product information

The white area, the internally created data, is:

  • Level 1: Basic product data with your internal identifiers as well as supplier data that reflects your business model
  • Level 5: Competitive data with your better product stories, your unique up-sell and cross-sell opportunities and your choice of convincing advanced digital assets
  • Level 3 in part: Your product description (perhaps in multiple languages) that is consistent with other products you sell and a product image that could be the one provided by the manufacturer or one you shoot yourself.

Obviously, creating internal product data that works better than your competitor is a way to win.

For the blue area, the externally created data, your way of winning is related to how good you are at on-boarding this data from your upstream trading partners being manufacturers and upstream distributors or how good you are in exploiting available product data pools and industry specific product data portals.

In doing that, connect is better than collect. You can connect by using Product Data Lake.

Three Game Changers within Product Information Management

Product Information Management (PIM) is a fast-growing discipline enabled by PIM platforms. While the current market for PIM platforms is much about supporting a consistent in-house management of the information related to product models we make, buy and sell, there are new opportunities arising. Three of them on my radar are:

globalInternet of Things (IoT)

With the rise of IoT and the related theme Industry 4.0 we will in the future not just have to deal with the product model but also each physical instance of that product. As an example of how many product groups that might embrace, read about that IKEA is thinking about embedding its furniture with artificial intelligence.

Value webs

The recent buzzword in the chain starting with “supply chain” and going over “value chain” is “value web”. Learn about the arrival of continuously evolving business ecosystems and value webs in this article from Deloitte University Press. Product information management encompassing business ecosystems will be imperative in value webs.

Product Data Lake

This is in all humbleness my venture by having launched a PIM-2-PIM platform that deals with the current main pain in product information management, being exchanging product information between trading partners. We do that in an agile and automated way by supporting partnerships in value webs and are soon adding things to Product Data Lake.

Get into the game by registering for a trial account on Product Data Lake.

A Product Information Management (PIM) Solar System

Hundreds of years ago the geocentric model was replaced by heliocentrism, meaning that we recognize that the earth travels around the sun and not the other way around.

When it comes to Product Information Management (PIM), we also need a Copernican Revolution, meaning that it is good to manage product information consistently inside a given company, but it is better to manage product information in the light of the business ecosystem where we participate.

Exchanging product information in the business ecosystems of manufacturers, distributors and retailers cannot work properly by asking all your trading partners to use your version of a spreadsheet – if they don’t get to you first with their version. Nor will self-centered supplier / customer product data portals work as examined in the post PIM Supplier Portals: Are They Good or Bad?

Your company is not a lonely planet. You are part of a business ecosystem, where you may be:

  • Upstream as the maker of goods and services. For that you need to buy raw materials and indirect goods from the parties being your vendors. In a data driven world you also to need to receive product information for these items. You need to sell your finished products to the midstream and downstream parties being your B2B customers. For that you need to provide product information to those parties.
  • Midstream as a distributor (wholesaler) of products. You need to receive product information from upstream parties being your vendors, perhaps enrich and adapt the product information and provide this information to the parties being your downstream B2B customers.
  • Downstream as a retailer or large end user of product information. You need to receive product information from upstream parties being your vendors and enrich and adapt the product information so you will be the preferred seller to the parties being your B2B customers and/or B2C customers.

At Product Data Lake we support business ecosystems in Product Information Management (PIM). And this is not just a nice model. There are concrete business benefits too. 10 business benefits.

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Three Ways of Embracing Digital Ecosystem Platforms

Gartner, the analyst firm, has recently promoted their take on the five kinds of digital platforms you will need to consider in your digital transformation journey.

Gartner Digital Platforms 2The top right kind of platform is the ecosystem one. This kind of platform will facilitate how you interact with business partners.

I my eyes, there are three kind of ways you can do that:

  1. You provide and own an ecosystem digital platform for your business partners
  2. You participate in an ecosystem digital platform provided and owned by one of your business partners
  3. You participate in a neutral provided and owned ecosystem digital platform for a given purpose

Currently I am working with Product Data Lake, which is the third kind of platform. In this ecosystem digital platform you can exchange product information with your trading partners. There are alternatives of the other kinds as discussed in the post PIM Supplier Portals: Are They Good or Bad?