The ABCs of PIM systems

The journey to achieve digital transformation continues for B2B organizations across the globe, as they work to align to the needs of the digital first customer. While businesses have invested in important areas like digital commerce, many still struggle to deliver experiences that drive engagement across all their customer segments.

Despite all the investments B2B organizations are still struggling to meet the demands of their customers. One of the biggest challenges B2B organizations face is the lack of high-quality product data to support the customer journey. While there are many opportunities to solve the issue of high-quality data, an often overlooked or misunderstood technology that is required to accomplish this is a Product Information Management (PIM) system.

Data problems hinder digital transformation

Many B2B organizations struggle with providing high-quality product data because they believe that the data in their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is good enough for digital experiences. While that data was good enough in the past, what they fail to recognize is that there was a live person that sat between the data and the customer. This person performed the role of a product data translator and helped provide the answers that customers needed to make informed product decisions. When we remove the knowledgeable and experienced person from the equation, like we do in digital experiences, the available data is no longer good enough and can’t provide the desired results in the new digital market. It is time for B2B organizations to grab the bull by the horn and invest in an enterprise PIM to enable both internal and external resources to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively.

PIM as part of the solution

PIM can help be part of the solution but to truly be successful with PIM, organizations need to understand that investing in technology alone does not solve the problem and they must be open to modifications across people, process and technology to satisfy the digital first customer.  The product data transformation starts within the internal organization by addressing what problems the data needs to solve for and understanding what processes exist to collect and manage the data. In most cases, B2B organizations will realize that the current data uses lack process and each user manages the data in their own way. Product data that is high-quality, relevant, and accurate will make for exceptional B2B experiences. When product data is not optimized the user experience ultimately suffers. PIM serves as one of the foundational pillars of digital transformation for B2B organizations to optimize and enrich product data.

What is Product Information Management (PIM)?

Many organizations struggle to understand what a PIM is and how it can enhance their B2B digital commerce. PIM refers to the application or technology that enables organizations to collect, optimize and share product data to both internal and external sources. The primary purpose of a PIM is to bring product information from multiple sources together and create a more complete product record. The important consideration and the value of PIM is that is intended to provide business users with a way to interact with the data. What can be confusing for B2B organizations is how a PIM differs from other product data sources like Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Master Database Management (MDM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Digital Asset Management (DAM). Let’s explore the different systems and how they differ from PIM.

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

A PLM is a tool that is focused on the internal organization and stakeholders but doesn’t consider information that is not intended for sales, marketing or customer facing experiences. PLM is most often used for Engineers, Research and Development, Product Management and Manufacturing processes. In most cases, the PLM is an application that houses product information that contains intellectual properties tied to the design and development of products as well as the information that is relevant to managing the entire lifecycle of the product. It does not mean that some product data in the PLM would not be relevant for a PIM, it means that these two technologies have completely different purposes and having one does not replace the other.

Master Database Management (MDM)

Like other systems intended for management of internal data, an MDM solution is intended to enable Information Technology (IT) professionals to manage and consolidate all different types of data across a multitude of systems. For enterprise organizations, or companies that are growing through acquisition, having an MDM is the answer to eliminating replicated data across multiple businesses and disciplines including employees, customers, vendors, products and more. It is important to consider a PIM as a companion application to an MDM, as a means to take existing product data from the MDM and enable business users like sales and marketing to prepare the information for use external to the organization.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)

One of the most important system differences to understand is the difference between the ERP and a PIM. While there are  dependencies between the two systems, the reality is that they serve completely different purposes. An ERP is the internal business software that manages the day-to-day aspects of a business such as operations, accounting, and procurement. While the ERP does contain some basic product related information, it is not intended to store all the important product data that is needed for a multitude of use cases both internal and external to the organization.

Digital Asset Management (DAM)

Another system that organizations can get confused about is the difference between a PIM and a Digital Asset Management (DAM). The biggest consideration for these two technologies is that they are not mutually exclusive but complement and work well together. A DAM is used to centralize digital assets that include both product and marketing assets. Think of product assets as important pieces of content like multiple product images, PDFs, Videos , brochures and more. The value of having a DAM associated with your PIM is that you can create and store product related assets in the DAM and connect the appropriate assets to your PIM data to share not only the relevant product data, but all the associated product assets as well.

How your internal stakeholders can benefit from PIM

Different users within a B2B organizations have different needs and interactions with product data. In most cases, granting users access to all the different systems that house product data could be cost prohibitive to the organization relating to license costs. Product Managers are often responsible for making product ready and available to sell and they need a means to start the process to make the product as available to sell. Once a product is nearing completion in development and getting ready to move into production, the Product Manager will establish the product in the ERP in order make it available for production and available to sell.

When the ERP is integrated with the PIM, the process of preparing for a product launch can begin in the PIM, thus eliminating the need for the Product Manager to move between multiple systems to accomplish the task at hand. Once the primary of establishing the product has been completed, it is possible to enable a Marketing, Product Marketing, or a Creative Writer to start interacting with the product data that resides in the PIM. The role of these more creative resources would be to add copy and information to the product record that will help enrich the data and make it more user-friendly including adding key words that are commonly used by customers to help with SEO or onsite search. Enriching short and long descriptions, adding product specifications, or adding additional product attributes are a few examples.

How to decide on a PIM

There are many PIM solutions available in the market today, and they all are designed to do the job of consolidating, managing, and sharing your product data. Selecting the right PIM requires an understanding of the product information that you desire to consolidate, the processes that exist to ensure that they product information is consistent and leveraged in a consistent manner and finally what use cases are critical to your business and which solution is best aligned to the needs. It is also important to consider the complexity of the PIM solution and how many resources will be required to manage the PIM. In many cases, working with a partner to help with the technology selection can be a great way for organizations to align the right solution to the needs of the business. A good way to select a PIM that is right for your business is to work with platform agnostic partners that are familiar with many solutions and can help align your business to the right solution.

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