Product Information Management in Excel

I regularly visit clients to advise them on product information management and publishing automation. It may be a client who is just planning to obtain a PIM system, and it may be an experienced one with fine-tuned processes. Quite often when I am doing a consulting or training call, they ask me,

What is the usual way for solving product information management?

My usual response is showing them a picture:


But there is a truth to the joke. Too often product information management issues have been solved with several parallel and overlapping Excel files. Sometimes the process has not been thought out or no one knows of anything better.

Excel is excellent in many places. Even our PIM product allows for mass updating product data or retrieving product information for refining or running reports on it using Excel files. Excel can be used as a CRM system, a BI tool etc. Excel is also certain to be the most used PIM system. It is easy to understand why Excel would be chosen as the tool: it is inexpensive, and the data model is flexible and familiar to many. It is also relatively easy to use it to transfer information to other systems.

However, Excel is not for everything. As a centralised product database is rarely works even to an adequate degree. Here are some reasons why:

Information security How is it ensured that the product data master has been backed up? Are backups made of the Excel files? Does the entire company’s product information travel around the world in a single user’s laptop? If a user makes local changes, is the workstation backed up? If the user accidentally deletes an entire worksheet, what happens? Are modifications logged? Can it be traced who modified what and when?

Data model
Although it is possible to model a variety of information types in an Excel file, how easily will it support:

  • modelling the different data models of different products (and guiding data entry accordingly)
  • defining inter-product relations and links
  • adding and managing product images and attachments
  • managing categories, groups and classifications

It is also industrious to build different rules and logic sets in Excel. How is it specified that some element is required?

Multi-user support
How does an Excel file support multiple people using it concurrently? Is the information required by different roles in different files? How is the information kept up-to-date? Is the latest information always available in the shared workbook or do users have a local copy of the files?

How are product-related images managed in an Excel PIM solution? Probably in a separate shared folder? How are suitable versions made of the images for different channels? Automation, even in the simplest of tasks, will become difficult or impossible.

How easy is it to find the products in Excel? If the data model is the slightest bit complex, information has probably been distributed across several files. If there are dozens or hundreds of thousands of products and each has a couple hundred attributes, you will end up with dozens of millions of cells in Excel. Not very excellent.

How easy is it to create genuine system integration between Excel and an online store? A modern PIM system provides interfaces that Excel users can only dream of. For example, a JSON-based REST interface provides marvellous opportunities for easy system integration.

Is the Excel user interface developed for efficient product information maintenance? Hardly.

In the world of PIM, we talk of channels. This means how product information is used in different sales and marketing channels. How easy is it, for example, to get information from Excel to electronic channels or automated material printing processes?

Contact us, and we’ll tell you more about a real solution for product information management.