Get to Know: What is PIM?

Curious about what a Product Information Management (PIM) solution is and how it can help your business? Watch the video here for a brief explanation. 

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I’m Joe Bennet from Unilog Content Solutions and I’m here to talk to you,the hard goods distributor or wholesaler, about what is PIM and why we at Unilog think you should be looking at it.

Product Management System: The Facts

I’m actually going to talk about three things first: What is a PIM? I’m gonna talk about why we believe a PIM is not your product file in your ERP system and how you should go about choosing a PIM or maybe a little bit more. PIM plus other software that might be right for you and meet your needs. In its simplest level if we were to find a PIM, we could say a PIM is an acronym that stands for Product Information Management system. 

Now I know many of you are saying, hey Joe I have one of that right? Yeah this is a place, a repository for me to hold my product so you’re gonna say time out, I already have that. I have that over here in my ERP system. Now you and I probably have very similar backgrounds. Just for your education, my backgrounds since 1988 to 2014 was developing and deploying ERP solutions specifically for you to hard goods distributor and I know an ERP solution, the enterprise resource planning system that would have as all of your data, your sales orders, your purchase orders, your transfers, your adjustments, even your back-office accounting functions of cash receipts, payable invoices, cash disbursements and journal entries. It’s a place where you would have files. 

Let’s face it. A system is nothing more than a collection of files so we would have to save for example, your customer file and your ship to file. It would save, your vendor file and your product file.  That’s when you say, exactly Joe, we have a place, we have a repository for our product information. Well, let’s step back to say what is a PIM and peel that onion just another layer and go a little bit deeper. 

Inside PIM

A PIM is actually a master data maintenance system for your product information that would subscribe to data from existing systems and also publish data to listening systems. You might say, wait a second, subscribe? Well maybe you’re a member of a buying group that provides for your content and you subscribe to that content. Maybe you’re a member of an industry trade association that provides content and you subscribe to that content. Maybe you’re a member of both and you have multiple subscribing entities that you’re getting content from. 

Now you might say, well, who would I publish the data to? Well I guess the first answer could be back to here. The place that is already consuming product information but we could also publish data to say a print catalog, Yes, I did say print catalog and I don’t think it’s dead yet. It could be say, published to your website or websites. Your native mobile commerce app and maybe some marketplace that you want to participate in. 

How is a PIM Different?

So, a PIM is fundamentally different in its starting point than your ERP system because it’s built to start to subscribe to content from other sources and publish that content to listening systems. The other thing that a PIM does that wasn’t normal in an ERP system is data quality management. It’s a place where you can normalize your data. Now I know many of you are saying, I don’t like when you guys, the computer guys speak in a vernacular that’s not normal to us. 

Normalizing Data

What does data normalization mean? Oh well you have a vendor say Grohe. Another vendor say Moyen and a third one says Delta.  They provide you with faucets that you resell and each of them have an attribute called spouts reach but maybe one manufacturer abbreviates inch, I-N, another one abbreviates I-N-C-H, and a third one uses the inch mark. In your PIM, you would probably subscribe to that data but then you would want to normalize that data so the systems that you’re publishing it to, like your website with faceted navigation, would have consistent data. 

Data quality management is more than just data normalization. It’s also where you would do digital asset aggregation. Think of your images. Think of your PDFs. Where you would aggregate all your digital assets? Where you would cleanse your data? Now I know many of you are looking at this whiteboard now and saying, I can do it. Joe, I got the database administrator muscles in conjunction with the deep tribal product knowledge that I can do it and I would agree with you, it can be done. It is a round peg in a square hole but with the right database administration muscles combined with deep tribal product knowledge, it could be done. A lot of effort but it could be done. 

PIM Functions and Features

So, let’s talk a little bit more here. About functions and features that you would see in a PIM that I don’t normally see in an ERP. In fact, I’m gonna start here with the word called taxonomy.  In your ERP system, you categorize products. You normally categorize them in one layer like a price line or a buy line or a sell group or a line or a vendor code. So, you have hundreds of thousands of products, 20 of which are in this group. Thirty-thousand which are in this group, but think about any website that you’ve ever navigated, you normally have a taxonomy navigation where you’ll have one layer that will drill out to a second layer and drill out to a third. Now remember, the one thing that all of you have in common is complexity in your catalog which is a fancy way of saying, you sell a lot of stuff from a lot of different manufacturers.

PIM: Light Bulbs and Faucets

A light bulb would have an attribute called voltage, by the way, an attribute that’s not normally in an ERP system. A faucet would have an attribute called spout reach. Once again and actually that’s not normally in an ERP system. Wouldn’t it be great if at the taxonomy level you could actually define your attribution and that’s something you don’t see in ERP. How about your product grouping? You might say, what do you mean?

Well, you’re a safety supply house that sells gloves.  You sell small, medium, large and extra-large of the exact same glove. In your ERP system that’s for products because they have four different on hand and potentially four different prices. When you were to put that in the air say print catalog, would you use four slots in the catalog? If you were to search on a website, would you expect to see four tiles come back on that website? I think you would want to group those items into a product by a differentiating attribute and it can get more complex. 

I’m an HVAC supply house that sells water heaters, 30, 50 and 75 gallons very similar to the small, medium, large but there’s a fuel source of electric propane and natural gas. That’s 9 products here (ERP) that would be 9 items in your PIM but allowed to be grouped to be published as one with differentiating attributes. You know I could go on. 

There are many features in a true PIM that simply don’t exist in your ERP such as image resizing. Maybe synonyms and you might say synonyms, well you sell EMT and you may also call it thin ball. Wouldn’t it be great for you to use industry slang like cowboy, trapeze and automatically say that the Versa bar and the threaded rod is equal to trapeze. These things are done easily in a system, a software system that’s engineered specifically to do that task. 

Choose the Right PIM

Lastly, I want to talk about how you would choose a PIM that’s right for you? And the advice that I would give you is, first and foremost, try to figure out what systems over here you will be publishing content to. List them actually in the priority of you where you want to publish them to. Maybe print catalog is very important to you and you want to send your outside sales team out with a print catalog that’s specific to the needs of his customer. Maybe your website, your websites, your native mobile commerce app or apps is most important to you. List where you’re going to be publishing data and quite frankly I believe that most of you are still watching this video because your desire is to publish data to your website.  For websites, you need a mobile commerce app and then your virtual marketplaces. So, if that was my fundamental primary decision or primary publishing spot, I would choose a PIM that also works very nicely with other ecommerce offerings such as a content management system, a configurable search engine, stuff that’s needed to power your website. 

My goal today was to talk to you the hard goods distributor about what is a PIM? Why I think you should be investing in a PIM? Why I believe the PIM is not the product file in your ERP and how you can choose a PIM or a PIM plus that’s right for you.