About Henrik Liliendahl

Data Quality and Master Data Management professional

The Dead End in Product Information Management: Your Supplier Portal

There is a tendency when deploying Product Information Management (PIM) solutions, that you may want to add a portal for your trading partners:

  • Manufacturers may have a customer portal where their downstream re-sellers can fetch the nicely arranged product information that is the result of their PIM implementation.
  • As a merchant, you could have a supplier portal where your upstream suppliers can deliver their information nicely arranged according to your product information standards in your PIM implementation.

Dead End SignHowever, this is a dead end for both manufacturers and merchants, because:

  • Manufacturers and you as a merchant probably follow different standards, so one must obey to the other. The result is that one side will have a lot of manual and costly work to do to obey the strongest trading partner. Only a few will be the strongest all time.
  • If all manufacturers have a customer portal and all merchants have a supplier portal everyone will be waiting for the other and no product information will flow in the supply chains.

This topic was discussed in the post PIM Supplier Portals: Are They Good or Bad?

If you want to learn about the better solution than – or supplement to – a supplier portal, please get in contact here:

How Wholesalers and Dealers of Building Materials can Improve Product Information Efficiency

MaterialsBuilding materials is a very diverse product group. As a wholesaler or dealer, you will have to manage many different attributes and digital assets depending on which product classification we are talking about.

Getting these data from a diverse crowd of suppliers is a hard job. You may have a spreadsheet for each product group where you require data from your suppliers, but this means a lot of follow up and work in putting the data into your system. You may have a supplier portal, but suppliers are probably reluctant to use it, because they cannot deal with hundreds of different supplier portals from you and all the other wholesalers and dealers possibly across many countries. In the same way that you are not happy about if you must fetch data from hundreds of different customer portals provided by manufacturers and other brand owners.

This also means that even if you can handle the logistics, you must limit your regular assortment of products and therefore often deal with special ad hoc products when they are needed to form a complete range of products asked for by your customers for a given building project. Handling of “specials” is a huge burden and the data gathering must usually be repeated if the product turns up again.

At Product Data Lake we have developed a solution to these challenges. It is a cloud service where your suppliers can provide product information in their way and you can pull the information in the way that fits your taxonomy, structure and format.

 

5 Product Data Levels to Consider

As a merchant (dealer or retailer) you are probably evaluating how you can implement or improve your Product Master Data Management (Product MDM) and/or Product Information Management (PIM). When doing that, you can divide the different kinds of product data into the schema below:

Five levels

Level 1, Basic Data

At the first level, we find the basic product data that typically is the minimum required for creating a product in any system of record.

Here we find the primary product identification number or code that is the internal key to all other product data structures and transactions related to the product within an organization.

Then there usually is a short product description (if you use SAP, it is an only 40 character long field). This description helps internal employees identifying a product and distinguishing that product from other products. Most often the product is named in the official language of the company.

Here we also find the identification of the supplier and his product identifier.

Level 2, Trading Data

The second level has product data related to trading the product. We may have a unique Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) that may be in the form of an International – former European – Article Number (EAN) or a Universal Product Code (UPC). Here we have commodity codes and a lot of other product data that supports buying, receiving, selling and delivering the product.

Level 3, Recognition Data

On the third level, we find the two basic pieces of product information that came to existence when we started producing product catalogues and had the first ecommerce solutions online.

The extended product description is needed because the usual short product description used internally have no meaning to an outsider as told in the post Customer Friendly Product Master Data. Some good best practices for governing the extended product description is to have a common structure of how the description is written, not to use abbreviations and to have a strict vocabulary as reported in the post Toilet Seats and Data Quality.

We often see that the extended product descriptions need to be present in the range of languages covering the locations where business is done either if the business is international or done in a country with multiple countries. The trend of increased user customization (or should I say customization) drives this point further.

Having a product image is pivotal if you want to sell something without showing the real product face-to-face with the customer or other end user. A missing product image is a sign of a broken business process for collecting product data as pondered in the post Image Coming Soon.

Level 4, Self-service Data

At the fourth level, we have three main sorts of product information: Product attributes, basic product relations and standard digital assets. These data supports when customers makes buying decisions within eCommerce and other self-service scenarios.

Product attributes are also sometimes called product properties or product features. These are up to thousands of different data elements that describes a product. Some are very common for most products like height, length, weight and colour. Some are very specific to the product category. This challenge is the reason of being for dedicated Product Information Management (PIM) solutions as told in the post MDM Tools Revealed.

Basic product relations are the links between a product and other products like a product that have several different accessories that goes with the product or a product being a successor of another now decommissioned product. Product relations is described further in the post Related Products: The Often Overlooked Facet of PIM.

Standard digital assets are documents like installation guides, line drawings and data sheets as examined in the post Digital Assets and Product MDM.

Level 5, Competitive Data

As the fifth level we find elements like on the fourth level, but usually these are elements that you won’t necessarily apply to all products but only to your top products where you want to stand out from the crowd and distance yourself from your competitors. If you are a reseller, you typically make these data yourself, where level 4 hard facts are delivered from the manufacturer, as examined in the post Using Internal and External Product Information to Win.

Special content are descriptions of and stories about the product above the hard features. Here you tell about why the product is better than other products and in which circumstances the product can to be used. A common aim with these descriptions is also Search Engine Optimization.

X-sell (cross-sell) and up-sell product relations applies to your particular mix of products and may be made subjective as for example to look at up-sell from a profit margin point of view. X-sell and up-sell relations may be defined from upstream by you or your upstream trading partners but also dripping down on the roof from the behaviour of your downstream trading partners / customers as manifested in the classic webshop message: “Those who bought product A also bought / looked at product B”.

Advanced digital assets are broader and more lively material than the hard fact line drawings and other documents. Increasingly newer digital media types as video are used for this purpose.

Product Classification, Product Pricing and Product Lifecycle Status

All of the above-mentioned levels of product information is supported by product classification. Usually we see product classification handled as a reference data type across Product Information Management (PIM) and ERP solutions.

Product pricing is usually also a subject mainly belonging to the ERP side of things.

Master Data Management (MDM) is the discipline that connects the dots between these topics.

Take the processes to the next level:

Learn how our Product Data Pull concept drastically can improve your business processes in getting not at least the higher levels of product information in the right shape here.

How Merchants Can Sell More and Reduce Costs

In a data driven world being the best at receiving product information from your suppliers is a winning formula.

You will sell more if you have the most complete, accurate and timely product information in front of your online customers when they make self-service buying decisions.

You will reduce costs if  you can pull product information in one uniform way and let your suppliers push it in their many ways. Hereby you can automate the processes,  avoid errors and reduce product returns.

You will also be able to manage a broader product range by turning ad hoc products into a regular product in your assortment with minimal extra costs.

Our solution using emerging technologies within Product Data Lake will make you be easy to do business with in the eyes of your suppliers and make your product information transform into a powerful weapon in the quest for winning more online market share.

The people who may buy your product range deserves to know all about it and wants to get that information when making the buying decision. Remember: 81 % of visitors will leave a web-shop with incomplete product information.

Downstream sell more reduce costs

 

Product Data Syndication Freedom for Merchants

When working with product data syndication in supply chains the big pain is that data standards in use and the preferred exchange methods differ between supply chain participants.

As a merchant you will have hundreds of suppliers who probably have data standards different from you and most likely wants to syndicate product data with you in a different way than you do.

The aim of Product Data Lake is to take that pain away from both the manufacturer side and the merchant side. We offer product data syndication freedom by letting your supplying manufacturers push product information using their data standards and their preferred exchange method and letting you as a merchant pull product information using your data standards and your preferred exchange method.

Product Data Syndication

 

How to end the standoff with your suppliers

Who should have the burden of lifting product information as your suppliers have it to the way it is presented at the digital point-of-sales provided by you? Often this seems to be stalled in a standoff as described in the post Passive vs Active Product Information Exchange.

Using spreadsheets

Most companies participating in cross company supply chains use spreadsheets for exchanging product data. Doing that is very cumbersome, error-prone and does in most cases not provide the needed data quality for getting self-service ready product data from your suppliers.

The most common way of using spreadsheets for this is that you as a merchant gives each of your suppliers a spreadsheet with columns of attributes based on your taxonomy to be filled out. As a supplier, they will typically be tasked with filling in a different spreadsheet from each of their re-sellers. This is very inefficient seen from a supplier perspective.

Deploying customer (and supplier) portals for product information

There is a tendency when deploying Product Information Management (PIM) solutions, that you may want to add a portal for your trading partners:

  • If you are a manufacturer, you could have a customer portal where your downstream re-sellers can fetch the nicely arranged product information that is the result of your PIM implementation.
  • If you are a merchant, you could have a supplier portal where your upstream suppliers can deliver their information nicely arranged according to your product information standards in your PIM implementation.

This is a death trap for both manufacturers and merchants, because:

  • As a trading manufacturer and merchant, you probably follow different standards, so one must obey to the other. The result is that one side will have a lot of manual and costly work to do to obey the strongest trading partner. Only a few will be the strongest all time.
  • If all manufacturers have a customer portal and all merchants have a supplier portal everyone will be waiting for the other and no product information will flow in the supply chains.

Standoff downstream

At Product Data Lake we offer merchants and suppliers an honorable way out of this standoff by offering Product Data Syndication Freedom.

 

How to Combine eClass and ETIM

eClass and ETIM are two different standards for product information.

eCl@ss is a cross-industry product data standard for classification and description of products and services emphasizing on being a ISO/IEC compliant industry standard nationally and internationally. The classification guides the eCl@ss standard for product attributes (in eClass called properties) that are needed for a product with a given classification.

ETIM develops and manages a worldwide uniform classification for technical products. This classification guides the ETIM standard for product attributes (in ETIM called features) that are needed for a product with a given classification.

It is worth noticing, that these two standards are much more elaborate than for example the well-known classification system called UNSPSC, as UNSPSC only classifies products, but does not tell which attributes (and with what standards) you need to specify a product in detail.

There is a cooperation between eClass and ETIM which means, that you can map between the two standards. However, it will not usually make sense for one organization to try to use both standards at the same time.

PDL How it worksWhat does make sense is combining the two standards, if you as merchant use one standard and your manufacturer use the other standard. The place to make the combination is within Product Data Lake, the new service for exchanging product information between manufacturers and merchants.

A Different End-to-End Solution for Product Information Management (PIM)

The term End-to-End is used a lot in marketing jargon. Now, I will jump on that wagon too.

In reality, no solution will be an End-to-End solution for all your business needs. Therefore, my take will merely be to cast some light on an End-to-End need for which there are only very scattered solutions today.

If we look at Product Information Management (PIM) there are many good solutions for taking care of the End-to-End needs within your organisation. The aim is to gather the product information that exist within your organisation in various silos, have one trusted place for all this information and being able to publish this information in a consistent way across all channels – the omnichannel theme.

However, product information does in many cases not live just within your organization. In most cases, it lives in a business ecosystem of manufacturers, distributors, retailers and large end users.

Therefore we need an End-to-End solution for product information that encompasses the path from manufacturers over distributors to retailers and large end users and in some cases the way back.

If you are a distributor or retailer, you can use the Product Data Pull service to achieve tangible business outcomes through:

  • Having complete, accurate and timely product information in front of your customers. You will sell more.
  • Having a fast and seamless flow of product information from your upstream trading partners. You will reduce costs.

MDM PIM DAM PDL

What a PIM-2-PIM Solution Looks Like

The importance of having a viable Product Information Management (PIM) solution has become well understood for companies who participates in supply chains.

The next step towards excellence in PIM is to handle product information in close collaboration with your trading partners. Product Data Lake is the solution for that. Here upstream providers of product information (manufacturers and upstream distributors) and downstream receivers of product information (downstream distributors and retailers) connect their choice of in-house PIM solution or other product master data solution as PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) or ERP.

The PIM-2-PIM solution resembles a social network where you request and accept partnerships with your trading partners from the real world.

pdl-how-1

After connecting the next to set up is how your product attributes and digital asset types links with the one used by your trading partner. In Product Data Lake we encompass the use of these different scenarios (in prioritized order):

  • You and your trading partner uses the same standard in the same version
  • You and your trading partners uses the same standard in different versions
  • You and your trading partner uses different standards
  • You and/or your trading partners don’t use a public standard

Read more about that and the needed data governance in the post Approaches to Sharing Product Information in Business Ecosystems.

pdl-how-2

Then it is time to link your common products. This can be done automatically if you both use a GTIN (or the older implementations as EAN number or UPC) as explained in the post Connecting Product Information. Alternatively, model numbers can be used for matching or, as a last option, the linking can be done in the interactive user interface.

pdl-how-3

Now you and your trading partner are set to start automating the process of sharing product information. In Product Data Lake upstream providers of product information can push new products, attribute values and digital assets from the in-house PIM solution to a hot folder, where from the information is uploaded by Product Data Lake. Downstream receivers can set up pull requests, where the linked product information is downloaded, so it is ready to be consumed by the in-house PIM solution.

pdl-how-4

This process can now be repeated with all your other trading partners, where you reuse the elements that are common between trading partners and build new linking where required.

pdl-how-5

Self-service Ready Product Data

The increased use of self-service based sales approaches as in ecommerce has put a lot of pressure on cross company supply chains. Besides handling the logistics and controlling pricing, you also have to take care of a huge amount of product data and digital assets describing the goods.

You may divide product information into these five levels:

Product Information Levels

Please learn more about the five levels of product information, including how hierarchies, pricing and logistics fits in, by visiting the product information castle.

Level 4 in this model is self-service product data being:

  • Product attributes, also sometimes called product properties or product features. These are up to thousands of different data elements that describes a product. Some are very common for most products like height, length, weight and colour. Some are very specific to the product category. This challenge is actually the reason of being for dedicated Product Information Management (PIM) solutions.
  • Basic product relations are the links between a product and other products like a product that have several different accessories that goes with the product or a product being a successor of another now decommissioned product.
  • Standard digital assets are documents like installation guides, line drawings and data sheets.

These are the product data that helps the end customer comparing products and making an objective choice when buying a product for a specific purpose of use. These data are also helpful in answering the questions a buyer may have when making a purchase.

Every piece of data belonging to any level of product information may be forwarded through the cross company supply chain from the manufacturer to the end seller. Self-service product data are however the data that most obviously will do so.

In order to support end customer self-service when producing, distributing and selling goods you must establish a process driven service that automates the introduction of new products with extensive product data, the inclusion of new kinds of product data and updates to those data. You must be a digitalized member of your business ecosystem. The modern solution for that is the Product Data Lake.