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Product information and its management by seven C principles

Product information and its management is much more than just product related parameters. Product information is a very broad concept and can contain anything that makes it easier for the customer to buy and use the product. Product information includes videos as well as instructions for use. Product Information Management is not rocket science, but when managed well, it can produce significant results.

C for Canter. I have collected here seven C’s describing the seven important things that enable successful product information management.

Collect

To be able to manage the product information required by the customer, it must first be gathered in one central location. Generally, this centralized location is a so-called PIM, or Product Information Management system. Typically, product information can be found in a variety of Excel charts, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and other systems, supplier websites, web servers, printed catalogs, price lists, etc. With modern interfaces and integration tools, product data collection into a Product Information Management system can be highly automated.

Connect

An essential part of Product Information Management is the management of product information flow in the company’s IT infrastructure between different systems. Therefore, product information management should always start by looking at this entity. The first thing to look into is where the product information is and where it should be. Next, phase is to consider what is the optimal way to collect information, how to enrich it for customer needs, and how to publish it to all the channels where customers need it.

Collaborate

Many different people are involved in product information management. Collaboration between different people and making the collaboration more productive, are some of the key themes in Product Information Management. Product Information Management ensures that once a particular content provider has entered content into the correct system, that content is instantly available to all people and channels that need it. The roles and responsibilities are defined together at the beginning in the specification phase of Product Information Management implementation.

Content

Quality over quantity is certainly true in Product Information Management. Everything starts with the question of what product content does our customer need? Deepening the thinking to the next level and thinking about what content a customer needs at different stages of his purchasing journey is also wise. Customer’s attention is awakened with completely different content (eg, a research result that underlines the customer’s need) than when supporting the purchase decision (eg product’s technical performance) or product use (eg maintenance instructions).

Product information management should therefore take into account the customer’s purchasing journey as one dimension when classifying product information. In addition, you should definitely invest in the quality and quality management of your product content.

Commerce

Business is based on commerce and the ultimate goal of product Information Management is to sell more products. Removing the barriers to purchase will increase sales. An online store where products can be found easily with versatile filters and it is easy to compare them, provides a good platform for buying. This kind of online store needs well-managed product information, whose parameters have been thought to support the customer’s needs.

Another aspect of trading is speed – how quickly new products are ready for sale in sales channels. When the Product Information Management process is designed in such a way that updating data to one place makes it automatically visible in all the sales channels, it is easy for the customer to buy products as soon as they are in stock.

Channels

Product information is needed in surprisingly many channels. Over the years, product catalogues and price lists have been complemented with a huge number of other channels, such as various online services, newsletters, price tags, packaging labels, product cards, promotions, store displays and product advertisements.

Each channel has its own purpose, and this is reflected in the required product information. On the shelf edge label, the price of the product may be in the lead and the most viewed information. On the website the most important information may be the product picture gallery. Although different information are being published for different channels, they should still be centrally managed and just filtered per channel. This will save a huge amount of duplicate work and ensure a consistent product experience for the customer between different channels.

Customers

The seventh C, to which the list ends, is the Customer in its own right. Product information management is done for the customers. At the product development and manufacturing stage, the company may have PDM and PLM systems in place to manage products more from an internal process perspective. The PIM Product Information Management system is there for the SKUs of these ERP, PDM, and PLM systems to be transformed into content-rich, customer-friendly products that are easy to buy.

Conclusion

With Product Information Management, existing product information is gathered and enriched to serve the customer’s needs in all shopping channels. Product Information Management brings together all the related people, background systems and sales channels to ensure that the customer is always served with the right product content. Product Information Management increases sales and is above all good customer service.

Five good reasons to get PIM

1. Does your product information management process look something like this?

If the answer is yes, contact us and we will help you.

tuotetietokaaos

2. Do you want to provide the best possible customer experience?

In that case, the PIM system is a relevant part of the solution. Through centralized product information management, you will be able to provide high-quality, correct and up-to-date product information through one source to all of your channels and stakeholders – both customers and your own staff.

3. Do you want to boost your product marketing?

By using PIM and its automated publishing solutions you can publish campaign leaflets, product catalogues or cards, create catalogues or leaflets, posters, price lists or shelf labels for shops just by a few presses of a button. You can publish in formats such as PDF, Excel, PowerPoint, and InDesign. See examples of publication solutions here  and here.

4. Do you want to be ready for fast, strategic changes?

If the foundation of your product information management is solid, expanding to new publishing channels, applications or new country or language versions is easy. Via PIM interfaces you can offer product information to e.g. your new retailer’s online store or website, to your customer’s purchasing system or any other channel that you wish to employ. There is no need reinvent the wheel every time.

5. Do you want to get rid of unnecessary manual work phases?

PIM allows you to automatize many routine tasks which would take a long time to do manually (and which often are the most tedious tasks as well). From PIM the product information is brought to the right stakeholders automatically. In addition, you can get rid of excessive copy pasting when you can rapidly produce e.g different Office or InDesign format product publications instead of requiring weeks’ worth of manual work.

PIM has to be easy

At Canter we work each day to make product information management (PIM) as easy as possible. As with everything else, those who manage to make complex things easy will prevail, and this is also the case with product information management.

Although it’s not complex in the first place.

Or at least we don’t think it has to be, and following few principles will go long way. While company and industry specific differences do exist, the basic principle will always be the same.

PIM is not an IT project.

It is the implementation of new mode of operation that includes both change management and automation of manual processes. PIM system does not do everything automatically, but instead operates as enabler. In order to make product information management for our clients as easy as possible, we have focused especially on the following and been actively developing them.

Easy acquisition

We think that acquiring IT system should not be a complex task. Pricing models based on the amount of users or transactions direct the decision making incorrectly, and instead we think that it is more important to find out how to make most out of the usage and processes. The more our clients use the PIM system and the data it provides, the better are the benefits they can get out of it.

Easy acquisition also depends on:

  • the length of the contract – we believe in the added value we provide, not in long contracts
  • the possibility of starting with just simple specifications
  • what sort of training is included
  • how the client is supported with change management
  • the update guarantee

Easy deployment

Easy deployment of a system leads into powerful use. When the basis is solid, it is also easier to do change management.

Easy deployment means many things:

  • how well the specification workshops are managed and prepared
  • clear practices and industry-specific productization
  • ease of installation and parameterization of the system
  • functioning Application Program Interfaces (APIs) facilitate the integration
  • best practices and connectors to the most common systems

Easy usage

Easy-to-use user interface motivates the users to handle the upkeep of product information and benefit from the data.

Good user experience is the sum of its part, and listed are just few key points:

  • logical, reliable user interface
  • search functions that work faster than a though
  • smart recommendations
  • mass editing, importing and exporting; especially useful when dealing with large amount of products

Easy integration

Seldom does a PIM system operate alone, and usually it’s a part of at least one other system. It is very common to have it integrated with many other systems, for example with ERP or a webstore.

System integration needs to be easy, so well documented and standardized API makes it easier and faster for everyone. This allows the data to be exchanged between multiple systems without massive integration projects.

 Easy expansion and usage of data

We want to help our clients to benefit from their product information more effectively. When PIM interfaces are functional and open, it’s easy to build data-based applications with the help of product information. This allows for our clients to work with those they see fit themselves.

Could we help you to make your product information management easy as well? Contact us! 

 

New strengths in product development

Last spring, we got a new employee at the office with Abel starting with us as Full Stack Developer. Abel has now been working with Canter for half a year, and we interviewed him and asked him about his thoughts of the new job and work environment. The developer, who formerly worked at Aalto University, where he also graduated, says he has been well received at his new job.

Abel_Canter

I knew nothing of Canter before I was contacted and started actively looking for information. I arrived at the interview and ended up working here. I was very positively welcomed and immediately got to working with new, interesting challenges.

When asked about his goals, the answer is prompt.

At the moment, I’m working with our next-generation product version, and the goal is to take this project further according to the project timeline together with Janne and Tuomas. I have learned plenty of new things in a short time, and this type of work and learning fits me like a glove. I like it that I have the opportunity to develop every day.

Getting to know the new work environment and workmates has also been smooth.

The people here are very extrovert and helpful to each other, which is something that helps solve even the greater challenges quickly. What has been surprising is that we also have some people who are very talented musically, and that I admire greatly :-)

Would you like to be part of our growing and developing team? We are looking for new reinforcements, so have a look here to see our open positions.

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.

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.