How people are moved by the digital product strategy


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 1 2016)

CPG companies pursuing digital strategies to improve or increase their top or bottom-line are finding that product (or raw material) information management and the distribution and sharing of information is crucial to their strategy’s success. This article looks at the necessity of a PIM and the underlying and parallel concept of managing your product information supply chain and why understanding this concept will be crucial to the success of a digital strategy.

PIM, as defined by a recent paper from Ventana Research titled Streamlining Information for Consumer Goods, is the entirety of processes, information and technologies used to manage all of an organisation’s product information to conform to established formats and standards. PIM typically covers six functional areas or capability segments.

First, there is the product introduction and maintenance capability segment, which deals with product induction and maintenance related aspects that typically involve planners, buyers and supply chain operations. Product setup, approvals, maintenance across all product and service categories, banners, brands and lines of business, regions and markets belong here also.

Second is the hierarchies, classifications and taxonomy management related capability segment. PIM solutions must provide multiple ways of defining hierarchies, classifications and groupings as well as the correlation of these tiered structures to the products and goods themselves. An excellent example is the GPC brick hierarchy as per GDSN standard and the new segments, which can be dynamically defined via the new major release 3 (MR3) update to GDSN. Another example to be looked deeper into later in this article, is the cross-domain or multi-domain relationship management.

Third is the media ingestion, management and correlation capability segment. In the digital age, engaging with customers effectively requires not only accurate information about a product but also describing the product with engaging media content like video and images, which are necessary for the product to show up when customers are searching for it via search engines like Google, Bing, etc. 

Fourth is the vendor and partner collaboration capability segment that relates to PIM solutions requiring collaboration channels that allow your suppliers and trading partners to provide or receive information to and from your product information supply chain.

Fifth is the information stewardship and governance capability segment. This is crucial for mapping organisational roles, structures, processes and tools (within PIM and elsewhere in your enterprise) to govern the product information as an enterprise data asset. One of the key capabilities here, and one that most PIM solutions seldom account for, is a robust data quality measurement and control capability. The gold standard are PIM solutions like Riversand’s MDM Center, which provide real time visibility into the quality of the data being managed within the solution and the tools and controls to address issues that are causing data quality to suffer.

Sixth is the Integration and Global Data syndication capability segment where enterprise PIM solutions must provide a strong, yet flexible integration methodology using ESB, SOA or flat files, SFTP, REST and XML-based APIs and web services. Syndication to global data pools like 1WorldSync that support the new MR3 update out of the box and syndication from 3rd party content enrichment companies belongs here as well. 

Each of these capability segments warrants an article by themselves but the intent here is to look at the business needs that today’s PIM solutions solve, and more importantly shed some detail on how they are best suited for “within your four walls” situations. Specifically the four walls of the CPG manufacturer / supplier or the four walls of their B2B partners which could be traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers, e-tailers, direct to consumer sites, marketplaces, etc. 

With the adoption of global data pools that follow standards like GS1-suppliers are able to author their product information once and share multiple times (by way of syndication) with their B2B partners / customers - yet these partners spend an equal if not larger amount of money, energy and time to re-arrange the information published to them - why is this?  

The answer lies in the understanding that much like the Merchandise supply chain, there is a parallel and (since the digital revolution) equally important product information supply chain. This information supply chain derives its characteristics from the lifecycle that the product follows. The reason organizations redundantly spend time and money on managing product information within their four walls is due to the varying stages of the product’s lifecycle which they are involved in.

One of the many possibilities that could exist is shown by the difference between what suppliers and their B2B partners do if the selling was either direct to consumers or through internet retailers or a marketplace. In many cases, different departments of their respective organizations (marketing vs merchandising vs shops…) are re-sponsible for this. The net result is that each of these instances are being treated as separate individual (often redundant) product information flows when they really should be looked at from an integrated perspective that factors in the gaps “within and between the four walls”. 

Plotting this across the supply chains, it will look like a nested step graph involving who is doing what and where as the primary variables. In the case of a CPG company, the product information lifecycle would extend from conceptualisation and R&D to production, sales, (to whom and through which channel?) delivery and returns. Then you overlay this with the retailer whose product information supply chain extends from procurement and purchasing to merchandising, logistics/distribution to sales (through which channel?). Finally, you overlay what the customer (B2B or B2C) does, this starts with browsing/ enquiry to buying (through what channel) to delivery / returns / exchanges (on which channel?). There are many more variations or permutations that can spawn as a result of who is exchanging product information with whom and for what purpose.

Aligning one’s product information management efforts around the product’s information supply chain can mean success or failure of your digital strategy because having the right product information available to the right constituent at the right time is key. Imagine the impact of your product not finding its way onto the first row and page of a google search performed for a keyword - could very well mean discontinuing that product.

To effectively manage ones product information supply chain will mean borrowing from advances made in data management fields like information retrieval, data management, analytics and augmenting these capabilities with your PIM solution capabilities outlined earlier. Capabilities like data acquisition serve to understand what is already available about your product data within and outside your four walls. Intelligent Match – Merge – Understanding serve to see what other products are like the ones we are introducing and how that information can be leveraged or applied before any effort or time is spent. 

Catalogue and category linking and correlation means mapping product categories to external categories like GPC from GS1, Google’s, Amazon and Ebay’s web taxonomies. Structured and unstructured attribution and syndication entails managing, correlating and sharing text, images, video, social and SEO at the right time in the product’s lifecycle to the right constituent (not all these are available when introducing a product as an example).

As the digital trends like e-commerce, digital marketing, targeted campaigns, and promotions continue to gather traction, CPG companies will find that current methods of managing product information are neither scalable nor effective. CPG companies adopting PIM solutions to address the gaps discussed here will need to understand the information gathering, management and syndication aspects of the Product Information Supply Chain and align them accordingly.

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Riversand is an innovative leader in Master Data Management, powering different sectors in industry – ranging from the world’s largest enterprises to SMEs. Riversand’s single integrated, scalable and robust multi-domain MDM platform caters to a variety of uses across multiple verticals.  

Riversand Technologies Inc.
Omer Farooque

Picture credits © Mads Perch/Getty Images


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