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:

tuotetiedonhallinta_excel_english

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?

Images
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.

Searchability
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.

Integrations
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.

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

Channels
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.

Distributed or centralised product information management?

Often when a client is about to commence product information management rollout, we discuss the model of management and the processes used for it. There is no universal, correct answer to this question. Naturally, there is a vast range of options for the process, but here we will make the division into centralised and distributed management.

In the centralised model, product information is entered into the system by a few employees who specialise in this task. They receive product information from other actors in the organisation, such as product managers, buyers or the marketing department, and then refine that information as needed before it is entered into the system.

In the distributed model, the maintenance tasks have been distributed among several people across the organisation. In this way, a single person will not spend that long carrying out the task but, on the other hand, consistency may be compromised. Should the product descriptions sound like your company? The product information refining process is closely related to the ERP product process, and thus it is worth thinking of these two as a whole.

In addition, note the following:

  • are there country-specific variations in the assortment or products?
  • how has the translation process been managed?
  • quantity and quality of product information to be saved:how much and what type of data is collected for the products?
  • where, in what format and in how “finished” a state is product information obtained:how much is there a need to modify the data before entry into the system?
  • what differences are there between product groups in the data to be refined?
  • what are the desired and possible organisation methods of information management?
  • information supply chain management (ISCM) and authority relationships
  • how often is the product assortment updated, new products introduced, old ones updated or deleted?

Which model would work better for you? The choice is partly influence by the competence and existing roles of the personnel. Will product information be available from vendors or manufacturers or will it be mostly produced by you? In many cases, there are different responsibilities for different product data. For example, a product manager is responsible for the technical data of a product while the marketing people are responsible for the images. The marketing texts may be a shared responsibility. Making process choice can be a strategic or tactical decision. What is the goal? Are you seeking long-term benefits and differentiation or efficiency in the beginning?

Whichever your company chooses, we are the supplier that will walk with you all the way, from the beginning. We will support you, help you and together with you find the model that best suits your needs.

Are you interested? Ask for more:
Janne Costiander
janne.costiander@canter.fi
+358 50 552 1054

 

 

Software Companies and Work Culture Changes

In Finland there is much talk about raising the retirement age, unemployment, changing work culture and how our society can be brought back on the growth path and how economic challenges can be resolved. There is enough material here to write numerous blog posts, but for now I will focus on the changing work culture and on some solutions to bringing our society back on the growth path.

Working life and work culture have changed significantly in the past 15 years or so, during which I have been full-time employed. Gradually organizations and leadership theories have changed direction and now encourage more conversation and working in groups and sharing decisions and responsibilities with those in the organization that are experts and there is also a strong desire to keep organizational structures as low as possible. All of these trends are obvious at Canter and they have brought many improvements to the way that this company operates. Regardless of one’s role in the company, all matters are discussed and resolved together in such a way that everybody is clear about the plans and the role that they play and their own duties. Motivation is strong when one gets to participate in considering choices and in making decisions and in enjoying the results of the work together as a team. In an open and conversational work culture it is also very important to pay attention to individual differences and to offer sufficient support and direction to those who are not as active or extroverted.  At Canter it is possible for any employee to go and have a talk even with the CEO. This creates a positive workplace atmosphere, a collaborative work effort and everybody pulling together to reach goals. Everybody here is working as a team and not just for the sake of ”production”.

The changes in work culture also reflect in customer service and sales. As recently as 10 years ago, many software companies tried to keep all of their own information very secret and told their customers and partners only what was deemed necessary and most sales consisted of cold calls and meetings with clientele to introduce the product or services. Nowadays many software companies, like Canter, have opted for rather open collaboration with their clientele and partners. This means that in example, much information is offered in regard to the products and interfaces, which many parties can benefit from and product and service development needs and directions are openly discussed with the clientele. In sales more emphasis is put on marketing and electronic channels in order to identify the potential clientele that has true need for and interest in the products and services offered. Conversations about how these clients can be served best will follow the initial contact. Also clientele behavior has changed much over the years. Previously it was typical for a client to ask for what they needed from the provider, but there was no real collaboration. Nowadays clients will actively collaborate with providers. They participate in making choices collaboratively and ask about alternatives openly and participate in planning on how to best achieve the desired results together with the provider. The work culture will see much change in the coming years, for example, with the ever increasing field of telecommuting and the clientele involving more providers and service providers in their own business development and software companies offering products and services more than ever before to their partners and for the benefit of other parties who bring in clientele. We will all win when we collaborate and share information more openly.

Petri Lehmus
Account Executive
Canter Oy

Our Future Experts

Here at Canter we believe in working in the spirit of cooperation, having open dialogue and supporting the future career paths of all of our team members. We aim at helping our current talented experts grow and find their own future paths because things go well when everybody is clear about their own direction and also supports the growth of the company and the service we provide to our great customers. Competition for experts is growing more heated every day and for years we have supported the young inexperienced future experts in their efforts to enter the workforce and to grow with us in building powerful work experiences and in developing their own career paths.

Canter_osaajat

At the beginning of this year I received a great opportunity to participate as a volunteer with the Finnish Mentors (Suomen Mentorit) in order to help our future experts enter the workforce and find their own paths. Although I did have some previous experience with working life related mentoring, this was the first time ever that I had a chance to mentor freshly college graduated youth full of enthusiasm, talent and potential. Mentoring is a bit similar to active participation in the modern work culture in the fact that whether one is mentoring a new graduate seeking for their own professional direction or an already seasoned professional, it is the mentor’s duty to help the seekers find the direction they want to be headed toward in their careers and to empower the talent to make their own choices in regard to their own future. Many times in working life it is the superiors of an expert who decide their career path without talking with the expert and this often leads to weakened motivation on the part of the expert as well as diminished work performance and huge loss of human potential. Fortunately there are already many businesses, like Canter, that encourage the expert’s own choices regarding their career path.

Mentoring is one way to help future experts enter into the workforce. The future of our country is in the youth and it is of utmost importance that those with more experience offer their assistance to these beginners and challenge them to think about the direction that they want their careers to take and support the youth with their own visions and expertise so that the young do not choose a career path full of pitfalls. It is perfectly clear that once a young person finds the right path for them, they are more motivated and achieve better results and give their personal best to support the development and economic growth of our country.

Besides all the larger improvements and developments needed in our society, every single one of us within the workforce can help and support the youth by, in example, having conversations with them and by sharing our own visions and experiences with them. This will help our youth in becoming our future experts and will ensure our society’s ability to compete successfully in the international marketplaces.

Petri Lehmus
Account Executive
Canter Oy

How can I implement a PIM system successfully?

When kicking off a new project customers often ask for help with what to do to make their project implementation a big success. We tell everyone that in order to succeed the following three items need to be handled properly:   1. Set Clear Objectives  Not a single PIM project has started without a compelling […]

What happened in 2015?

2015 is behind us; we have set the goals for this year and started the measures to reach those goals. It is worth having a look at the past year, though —  what we did right, where we should develop and improve our performance. What do we need to be even better? Where do we want to be?

I was asking around at the office about the highlights and key topics that have become memorable. Take a look at the 2015 Top 10 below, listed in no particular order of importance.

  1. New clients. We were delighted to start collaborating with several new clients, learn about their industries and help them succeed with better product data management.
  2. Sales Tool. Our Sales Tool is top-notch.We have received feedback from the clients, telling us how their time is freed for the actual sales work and customers instead of updating and producing materials. That should tell us the essentials.
  3. Product development. The new PIM is on its way.Good things come to those who wait, and soon we will hear more!
  4. Canter’s web pages.Our new site and the spring were celebrated with a little sparkling wine.We continue working on the site but we are proud of the updated look and better functionality on all screen sizes.
  5. The blog.We contribute so that you all would know how to reach better results with product information management and how we could help you with it.Thank-you to all of our readers—we promise to keep producing ever-interesting texts.We are looking forward to all feedback!
  6. Learning and development.We have gotten the possibility to create a wide variety of solutions with our clients, always seeking the model that best suits the client.We have also learned plenty from that, making us better every day.
  7. New tools. Now our CRM looks like it should, and Slack has taken the creation of internal communication and memes to a whole new level.
  8. Atmosphere.We and our clients feel good, and that means good results.Every one of us has the responsibility, desire and possibility to keep investing in this.

    Canter's Summer Day '15

    Canter’s Summer Day ’15

  9. Food industry. This is one of our new industries, and the going just keeps getting faster in 2016. Getting familiar with food specifications and working with them is inspiring and educating.
  10. Potential.The year has offered everyone at the office a multitude of opportunities to seize and to develop through.

Wishing us success and development opportunities for the ongoing year 2016!

Product information is our most important capital

A few weeks ago, I was with a client who stated that in future, product information will be their most important capital. Products are sold through high-quality product information and it allows them to reach big targets, such as doubling sales revenue over the next couple of yers. For example, maintaining an online shop without the proper processes and tools is impossible for them, never mind further developing their business.

We have been working with product information for several years now and completed dozens of projects. Often, product information and PIM as a term have been completely new to our clients and we have worked hard to raise the awareness in Finland. Indeed, often we have started from the processes involved in automated publishing in relation to product information. These are based on company’s needs and their benefits are easier to grasp. Of course nobody wants to do product information just for the sake of it, that’s why it’s better to see its benefits as soon as possible.

It has been a great pleasure to note that a growing number of organisations has studied product information management, knows the terminology and it has been noted even on the upper levels of the strategy. In many businesses, product information management is part of the daily life. Of course there are more businesses that are only coming around it now. At its best, product information management is seen as one of the core processes that is meant for feeding information into channels that require it. Often, the client realises the importance of product information management as they set up their online shop. The online shop obviously requires quick reactions and real-time updates. This raises some eyebrows as old sales channels may have been functioning through manual processes for years. For example, it may take months to manually produce a printed catalogue whereas it could be produced in a fraction of the time if the process was automated.

Of course, the client’s statement raises their requirements onto a new level. How does one manage product information and more importantly, how do you use it efficiently to reach big targets? What should the processes be and how do the tools support them? These are some of the questions we gladly help our clients with. Take a look at the reference page and see how we have helped some of our current clients with their solutions.

 

Sales, more sales, video  

kissavideo_canter_blogi

Would you rather watch this blog post on video? Image borrowed from this site

 

I admit it, I am pretty lazy. When I’m shopping online, I tend to spend only about 15 seconds on a single page – especially if there is nothing to grab my attention right from the start, or if I’m not finding what I’m looking for. My worst turn-off is badly presented content. Pretty pictures will make it easier to stay on the site, but if for example the photo gallery doesn’t work with the arrow keys, I tend to just give up before long as using the mouse from the bed is too much of an effort. I also read very selectively: large feature posts, sub-headers and maybe the reviews. If I am extremely interested in the content, I just might read the small print and the actual body text.

But how about a video? Those I’ll watch pretty much every single time – especially if they’re short ones. I’ve bought more than enough dresses online because of a compelling product video. Nowadays I know that photos often lie, but I feel that a video is more concrete, more informative and more truthful.

Me and I’m guessing everybody else never reads a manual, but when I’m having problems I always have some time for few minutes long how-to video. With the advent of multiple new channels and everything becoming social, the end users are creating these videos themselves as well. You can find out how the product actually performs by watching a short YouTube or Snapchat video someone posted.

I believe that most people are like me – lazy, who believe when they see. Moving images work better and demand less from us. According to recent case studies, product videos can increase the conversion rate of a web-store by up to 85%. Google is also giving higher search result ranks to sites with videos. Maybe my next blog post too should be a video…

Videos are an important part of enriched product information – in addition to being informative and sometimes even entertaining, at best they can be the factor that makes the customer decide to buy the product, and increase your sales. Does your company already have a solution to tackle this new frontier? Look into Adeona PIM solutions for product information management and publishing.

Could you utilize existing data more, so that the customer experience would always be high quality? 

This title is a direct quote from the Trade Union’s e-commerce education presentation by CGI’s Mikko Kuusisto. We were participating in a training of experts involved in e-commerce. The discussion in this event proceeded very fast into customer experience and its improvement. This topic is popular right now, and for a reason. Both good and bad service experiences spread faster than before and reach across multiple channels to ever increasing audiences. All of these experiences are also shared more daringly.

How do product information and customer experience in an online store relate to each other? The picture below tells the story. The most important parts of an online store are considered to be the product image, product features, product description and product reviews.

 

ecommerce_productinformation

All of these details are associated with product data. Often this product data is stored in several places, based on each user’s preferences. One person’s excel looks one way, another person’s word file another way, and somebody else’s files look distinctly different. Product photos are stored in each user’s personal files, on the desktop or “where they are easy to find.” In a rush a wrong picture might be published with wrong information. If a customer cannot find what they want, there will be no sale.

It is possible to vastly improve the customer experience with already existing product data. Compilation of information in one place, for example in the PIM system, makes updating the product data more systematic. This way nobody has to look for “the right image” or wonder about a suitable marketing message. When product information is aggregated in one place, product data enrichment becomes easier. Everyone will have access to the same information in one place. Also, this way errors will be minimized.

Some of our customers have faced challenges with product data management.  You can view the solutions to their problems here.

Demands for Product Information are growing

Digitalization creates pressures concerning product information within an organization. Ever more extensive product information in a standardized format is being requested and demanded. During this fall I have had discussions every week with clients who are confronted with this challenge.

Wholesalers have set up their own e-commerce and supporting PIM systems. The goal is to create a process where product information is available collected from suppliers easily in a uniform structural format. This way, the products may be opened quickly in the systems and are ready to be ordered (time-to-market), and own work for collecting product information is minimized.

Suppliers experience this as pressure. Different retailers need product information – each in their own, slightly varying format. Filling Excel spreadsheets with information from thousands of products or offering product images named with EAN/GTIN codes or the client’s codes requires extremely heavy manual labor or may even be impossible. The challenges are very similar, independent of the size of the company. An enormous amount of energy is consumed doing routine work and the end result contains a considerable amount of errors.

Simultaneously, the company should also invest in its digital visibility and marketing. How to find the right balance and make use of work that has already been done? The unavoidable question arises, whether the time consumed in manual Excel use could be used more efficiently in increasing the visibility of the organization?

We have already succeeded in addressing these challenges with several clients, and the results have been magnificent. Besides mandatory product information listings, it is, for example, possible to automatically produce impressive client specific price lists with images – with the clients range of products assortment and prices. One of the successful examples is our client, Amo.

Watch the video and read of how the importer of toys Amo solved the challenge.