Product information management for conglomerates can be devilishly difficult, but there are ways to do it right, say experts at Earley Information Science roundtable
It’s hard enough to design and implement a “garden variety” product information management (PIM) program. Even at a single-line company with a straightforward structure and limited market reach, it’s just not that easy to figure out product names, determine which attributes to tout and organize everything into an effective system—and somehow also win consensus from various stakeholders along the way.
But the challenges, and potential pitfalls, are exponentially greater at conglomerates and other complex decentralized enterprises, where PIM may have to function as a shared platform across numerous operating units, or even separate companies, in any number of markets or perhaps all around the world. Consensus in this context has to be reached despite yawning differences in processes, priorities, products and services.
The task is formidable, so much so that you have to ask whether there are too many variations to support “one system of record,” says Dino Eliopulos, Managing Director of Earley Information Science (EIS). “What are the limits to the value of supporting a centralized system? Can so many different business units all standardize on a single PIM model?”
The do’s and don’ts of implementation, and the reasons why PIM is still very much worth the effort, were discussed by a panel of manufacturing, distribution and knowledge management experts at an Executive Roundtable hosted on Aug. 31 by EIS, a leading consulting firm focused on organizing information for business impact.
Among other things, big decentralized enterprises have to decide “what products belong in the PIM and what data is appropriate to master for those products,” Eliopulos said, and whether to use a “big bang” approach to implementation or one that is incremental. And they have to settle on the right governance structure.
The roundtable discussion, “Product Information Management for Conglomerates: The Best Approach for Complex Decentralized Enterprises,” was led by Eliopulos and included Marguerite Eddy, Principal Data Architect at National Instruments, a producer of automated test equipment and virtual instrumentation software, and Jennie Yates, Manager, eCommerce Catalog and Content, at WESCO Distribution, an electronics distribution and services company.
“PIM’s always a good idea,” said Yates. “It’s a very difficult journey to start, when you are looking at it from an enterprise-wide management point of view,” but the potential payoff is enormous. “It’s really part of that whole master data management [MDM], big data theory of reaping the benefits of having all of your product data in one place,” serving multiple parts of the enterprise.
“The true secret sauce in starting the journey,” Yates added, “is not to look at it as technical implementation,” which is certainly involved, but rather as a chance to understand the business processes of all affected entities and operations and identify the things that need to change. Through these conversations “you begin to develop your requirements to get a shared PIM throughout the organization that would be in everybody’s interest.”
Eddy agreed. “We went through strategic sessions with stakeholders across the company to define what we meant by product and to determine the scope of what we were working with. And only then did we start looking at technology.”
“That upfront input,” Yates added, “defines the business process that’s going to support the PIM,” including change management and the commitment to provide more resources.
The panelists also discussed the types of data that belong in the PIM, including product attributes; the considerations in deciding between the big bang and incremental transition approaches; the need for dual maintenance in making the shift from legacy systems; and the governance issues that can affect time to market.
The roundtable featured a real-time survey of the webinar attendees:
- When asked how they are using PIM in their organization, 20% said enterprise-wide as the system of record for all product content and 30% said across many business units or departments. But the remaining 50% said they don’t have a PIM system of any kind
- When asked if they are using PIM for master data, 9% said they master all of their product data across all channels, 9% use such data for digital channels and 36% said PIM is one of a number of sources of product data. Another 45% said they did not use PIM for master data management
- Finally, when asked if they could see their business using PIM as an MDM platform across all lines of business and subsidiaries, 17% said they are already doing just that “to great effect” and another 17% said they have plans and funding to follow suit within the next 12 months. Meanwhile, 33% said they are evaluating the various approaches and another 33% have no plans and are not interested
The Earley Executive Roundtable is an educational webinar series focusing on topics of interest in the areas of digital transformation and information science. Each month, EIS leads a lively discussion with a panel of industry experts.
The next roundtable is scheduled for Sept. 28, on the topic of “Beyond Taxonomy: How Manufacturers and Distributors Are Innovating in eCommerce.” To sign up, contact Sharon Foley at [email protected].