Maintaining product lists is often cited as a great example of Master Data Management (MDM). Many companies that manufacture or sell products need to get a consistent list of products for a variety of business reasons. The business value includes tracking what you sell to customers and also how you manage your supply chain. Product firms create products organically (internally) and through acquisitions. In both cases, each product line has, at least for part of its life, been operated as a separate business. At some point in the product life and sales cycle, business conditions dictate a transition into the company’s product portfolio. Although managing product lists is not always a simple task, it is only the tip of the iceberg for companies that design or engineer products. These companies have a need for a more complete PIM (Product Information Management) solution that extends far beyond simple product lists.
If you design or engineer products, then you need to track product designs and configurations that evolve and change over time. This applies to many manufacturing industries from high tech, consumer products, defense, and automobile to even farm machinery. These designs and configurations are likely scattered across many databases and often unstructured data sources. This data is not stored in your classic data warehouse (DW) or integrated through your run-in-of-the-mill ETL tool. You need to think outside your typical DW effort and determine how to get that data integrated into your PIM solution.
I did work for a farm machinery company many years ago. Their product data issues involved configuring combines, harvesters and other machinery that cost six and sometimes seven figures. This data challenge was not a trivial endeavor. These farming machines are highly customizable by the agricultural organizations purchasing them. The vendor needed to track what was available, what was sold and to whom. The customers needed to know what was available for their agricultural needs, have those machines built and then be able to service them for years.
What have these companies done and what should you do if you are just starting to design and implement a PIM solution?
- Get your data warehousing and data integration in place to support the classic product, sales and customer data stored in your various source systems
- Work with your engineering and product design groups to understand what they have in place to manage engineering drawings, specifications, configurations and all the associated versioning
- Get your sales and customer support organizations to define the PIM requirements
- Implement a data governance effort to get a handle on both your structured and unstructured data
- Leverage data integration capabilities that can handle the variety of data supporting PIM
The business benefits are to both the top line (increased sales) and bottom line (managing and reducing costs) when engineering and product design firms implement a PIM solution.