When you are focusing on the data needed to market products, from fire engines to flowers, and sell them though distribution channels, you are engaging in product information management (PIM). The data you are managing gets distributed to media channels such as catalogs, websites, enterprise systems and trading feeds. These outlets are distributed globally and occur in many languages. A central database may contain all of the data necessary to maintain product information, or the data may be distributed throughout an organization. For instance, different individuals within an organization may maintain private spreadsheets containing product information. It is the task of company management to gather all such information into a central repository in order to maximize its value to the company and to shareholders if the company is public.
In a streamlined, efficient company, PIM data is consolidated in a database system such as Oracle or MySQL and maintained via client-server architecture. Web-based administrative interfaces can be used to access all PIM data, and the PIM database shares information with other systems, such as inventory and ordering, to provide modular mechanisms for management control.
Some current PIM applications include:
- Electronic Catalogs: These are used as the basis for online procurement and marketplace ordering systems. A PIM system can interface with a catalog display program and provide it with descriptive information about each product in the catalog. Any number of standard data exchange protocols may be employed. A common communication link may be established between a product vendor and purchasing firms or marketplace operators, such as Amazon. When price data is included in PIM systems, purchasers have the ability to perform comparative price shopping for similar products.
- Websites: On a company website, PIM data can be linked to other business objects such as documents, content, and product images, as well as databases containing information about customers and salespersons. The e-commerce component of a PIM manages a shopping cart application and dynamic display of product information. Costs are saved when the PIM system integrates with inventory and logistics systems so that redundant data is eliminated.
- Print Catalogs: PIM databases can feed data directly to catalog printing applications and desktop publishing software. The integration of these systems can provide cost-effective automation of the catalogue-printing process.
When choosing to implement a PIM solution, one needs to assess the number of different products, how frequently product data changes, the IT resources of the firm, whether or not the firm has a successful online business, and whether there is sufficient demand by customers for online ordering. By evaluating these factors, companies can assess the realistic costs and benefits of a PIM.