Get the best out of PIM: lay the groundwork

Setting up a PIM (Product Information Management) solution is a huge undertaking, which needs to be scoped from the outset to get the most out of this powerful tool. Learn how to provide the right conditions to ensure it operates efficiently and is correctly used by internal teams.

Data: the sinews of PIM

The main aim of PIM is to use and send relevant and appropriate data through the right channels. Preparatory work is mainly focused on providing quality data, identifying data sources, and defining flows between the various components of the IS.

If data is not improved, qualified, and cleaned, or in other words, if it is poor, incomplete, unsuitable, and contains errors, your PIM system will be totally pointless. The first thing to suffer will be the customer experience. If images and details do not match up with the right product, if an incorrect stock display prevents customers making a purchase, or if they are unable to find the specific technical features they are looking for, they will rapidly turn to another brand to place their order! A PIM solution contributes directly to the product experience, helps with the buying decision, and influences the conversion rate, so it goes hand in hand with business performance.

A work session should be conducted in the early stages to prepare data that will be fed into the PIM solution.

Data content

Above all, a PIM system needs to be provided with quality data. So, how do we define “quality data”? To begin with, it needs to exist! We often realize that, for 50% of products, we don’t have the required information, or that information lacks coherence.

If data exists, has it been enriched? The richness of data determines the level of detail of the product. A distinction can be made between two types of information: dynamic or “hot data” that changes relatively often, such as price and stock; “cold data” that changes less often, such as the product's description, features and technical data. Detailed product presentations reassure potential customers and increase the desire to buy.

It is essential to define a level of completeness: Which characteristics need to be fulfilled for a product to appear on the website? Which criteria are required?

Distributing rich and relevant data is also helpful for SEO colleagues, because PIM contributes to the crucial task of referencing, by highlighting the data and characteristics that are most highly valued on Google and other search engines. It is a good idea to involve an SEO team from the outset of your project.

Lastly, beyond the quality and richness of data, we also need to look at its outward consistency, in order to create a homogenous end display. Should product names all be written in upper case, for example?

Data input and output

We are looking for data that is high quality in terms of both substance and form. But we also need to be able to find it. A second stage involves identifying the sources of data, so we know where to retrieve it. In older information systems, there is often a lot of mixed-quality data scattered throughout the ERP system. Some data is specific to retail and other data to e-commerce, each distribution channel having specific needs and drawing from different sources.

A PIM solution is a new module to be integrated in the existing IT ecosystem, so it can automatically send relevant data to linked applications. Its integration is more of a technical matter, but one that is directly related to data. How do inputs arrive in the PIM system and which modules of the information system is it fed by? How does data come out of the system and which connections need to be made to export them to the channels?

In order to represent the type of data to be retrieved for a given product family, as well as the locations they are sourced from and sent to, we establish a data model. All of the data, and the various flows that take it from its source to its final destination, are mapped out in this model.

There is also the question of the distribution channel, to make smart use of data. Information is presented differently, in terms of content and format, depending on the destination. While, for mobile applications, it is better to be fairly concise in terms of information provided, for an e-commerce website, much more detail is needed. For a print catalogue, photographs are a must, but descriptions should be brief.

Data are the sinews of PIM, but it is a tool that cannot survive alone! Without the right people to feed it and run it, a PIM solution will not get very far. Once it has been set up, who will look after it and how? Defining how teams will collaborate from the outset of the project is the second prerequisite.

PIM: at the crossroad of business teams

A PIM solution is a place where data comes together, including technical, marketing and legal data. These different types of data come from different departments. Because it requires coordination between such a diverse range of people, a PIM solution represents a significant organizational challenge!

Who will interact with the PIM solution? Who will enrich it? And when? With what type of data? On the basis of a data model, the various contributors need to be mapped out, in order to define the right configurations in terms of users and user groups, assign the required rights, identify approval workflows, and schedule data entry stages according to the PLC (Product Life Cycle). What is the aim? To define how you will work efficiently with the PIM solution, while integrating your various requirements.

It is essential to orchestrate collaboration between the various departments. If individual roles are poorly identified and processes are unclear, you are likely to waste time and return to manual data entry, whereas a well-designed PIM system offers huge potential for automation.

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