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.

 

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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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