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In recent years, more and more PLM customers approached me with questions related to the usage of product information for downstream publishing. To be fair, this is not my area of expertise for the moment. However, with the mindset of a connected enterprise, this topic will come up.

For that reason, I have a strategic partnership with Squadra, a Dutch-based company, providing the same coaching model as TacIT; however, they have their roots in PIM and MDM.

Together we believe we can deliver a meaningful answer on the question: What are the complementary roles of PLM and PIM? In this post, our first joint introduction.

Note: The topic is not new. Already in 2005, Jim Brown from Tech-Clarity published a white-paper: The Complementary Roles of PIM and PLM. This all before digitization and connectivity became massive.

Let’s start with the abbreviations, the TLAs (Three-Letter-Acronyms) and their related domains

PLM – level 1
(Product Lifecycle Management – push)

For PLM, I want to stay close to the current definitions. It is the strategic approach to provide a governance infrastructure to deliver a product to the market. Starting from an early concept phase till manufacturing and in its extended definition also during its operational phase.
The focus with PLM is to reduce time to market by ensuring quality, cost, and delivery through more and more a virtual product definition, therefore being able to decide upfront for the best design choices, manufacturing options with the lowest cost. In the retail world, own-brand products are creating a need for PLM.

The above image is nicely summarizing the expected benefits of a traditional PLM implementation.

 

MDM (Master Data Management)

When product data is shared in an enterprise among multiple systems, there is a need for Master Data Management (MDM). Master Data Management focuses on a governance approach that information stored in various systems has the same meaning and shared values where relevant.

MDM guards and streamlines the way master data is entered, processed, guarded, and changed within the company, resulting in one single version of the truth and enabling different departments and systems to stay synced regarding their crucial data.

Interestingly, in the not-so-digital world of PLM, you do not see PLM vendors working on an MDM-approach. They do not care about an end-to-end connected strategy yet. I wrote about this topic in 2017 here: Master Data Management and PLM.

PIM (Product Information Management)

The need for PIM starts to become evident when selling products through various business channels. If you are a specialized machine manufacturer, your product information for potential customers might be very basic and based on a few highlights.

However, due to digitization and global connectivity, product information now becomes crucial to be available in real-time, wherever your customers are in the world.

In a competitive world, with an omnichannel strategy, you cannot survive without having your PIM streamlined and managed.

 

Product Innovation Platforms (PLM – Level 2 – Pull)

With the introduction of Product Innovation Platforms as described by CIMdata and Gartner, the borders of PLM, PIM, and MDM might become vague, as they might be all part of the same platform, therefore reducing the immediate need for an MDM-environment.  For example, companies like Propel, Stibo, and Oracle are building a joint PLM-PIM portfolio.

Let’s dive more profound in the two scenarios that we meet the most in business, PLM driving PIM (my comfort zone) and PIM driving the need for PLM (Squadra’s s area of expertise).

PLM driving PIM

Traditionally PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) has been focusing on several aspects of the product lifecycle. Here is an excellent definition for traditional PLM:

PLM is a collection of best practices, dependent per industry to increase product revenue, reduce product-related costs and maximize the value of the product portfolio  (source 2PLM)

This definition shows that PLM is a business strategy, not necessarily a system, but an infrastructure/approach to:

  • ensure shorter time to market with the right quality (increasing product revenue)
  • efficiently (reduce product-related costs – resources and scrap)
  • deliver products that bring the best market revenue (maximize the value of the product portfolio)

The information handled by traditional PLM consists mostly of design data, i.e., specifications, manufacturing drawings, 3D Models, and Bill of Materials (physical part definitions) combined with version and revision management. In elaborate environments combined with processes supporting configuration management.

PLM data is more focused on internal processes and quality than on targeting the company’s customers. Sometimes the 3D Design data is used as a base to create lightweight 3D graphics for quotations and catalogs, combining it with relevant sales data. Traditional marketing was representing the voice of the customer.

PLM implementations are more and more providing an enterprise backbone for product data. As a result of this expansion, there is a wish to support sales and catalogs, more efficiently, sharing master data from creation till publishing, combining the product portfolio with sales and service information in a digital way.

In particular, due to globalization, there was a need to make information globally available in different languages without a significant overhead of resources to manage the data or manage the disconnect from the real product data.

Companies that have realized the need for connected data understood that Product Master Data Management is more than only the engineering/manufacturing view. Product Master Data Management is also relevant to the sales and services view. Historically done by companies as a customized extension on their PLM-system, now more and more interfacing with specialized PIM-systems. Proprietary PLM-PIM interfaces exist. Hopefully, with digital transformation, a more standardized approach will appear.

 

PIM driving the need for PLM

Because of changes in the retail market, the need for information in the publishing processes is also changing. Retailers also need to comply with new rules and legislation. The source of the required product information is often in the design process of the product.

In parallel, there is an ongoing market trend to have more and more private label products in the (wholesale and retail) assortments. This means a growing number of retailers and wholesalers will become producers and will have their own Ideation and innovation process.

A good example is ingredients and recipe information in the food retail sector. This information needs to be provided now by suppliers or by their own brand department that owns the design process of the product. Similar to RoHS or REACH compliance in the industry.

Retail and Wholesale can tackle own brands reasonably well with their PIM systems (or Excels), making use of workflows and product statuses. However, over the years, the information demands have increased, and a need for more sophisticated lifecycle management has emerged and, therefore the need for PLM (in this case, PLM also stands for Private Label Management).

In the image below, illustrates a PLM layer and a PIM layer, all leading towards rich product information for the end-users (either B2B or B2C).

In the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) world, most innovative products are coming from manufacturers. They have pipelines with lots of ideas resulting in a limited number of sellable products. In the Wholesale and Retail business, the Private Label development process usually has a smaller funnel but a high pressure on time to market, therefore, a higher need for efficiency in the product data chain.

Technological changes, like 3D Printing, also change the information requirements in the retail and wholesale sectors. 3D printing can be used for creating spare parts on-demand, therefore changing the information flow in processes dramatically. Technical drawings and models that were created in the design process, used for mass production, are now needed in the retail process closer to the end customer.

These examples make it clear that more and more information is needed for publication in the sales process and therefore needs to be present in PIM systems. This information needs to be collected and available during the PLM release process. A seamless connection between the product release and sales processes will support the changing requirements and will reduce errors and rework in on data.

PLM and PIM are two practices that need to go hand in hand like a relay baton in athletics. Companies that are using both tools must also organize themselves in a way that processes are integrated, and data governance is in place to keep things running smoothly.

 

Conclusion

Market changes and digital transformation force us to work in value streams along the whole product lifecycle ensuring quality and time to market. PLM and PIM will be connected domains in the future, to enable smooth product go-to-market. Important is the use of data standards (PLM and PIM should speak a common language) – best based on industry standards so that cross-company communication on product data is possible.

What do you think? Do you see PLM and PIM getting together too, in your business?

Please share in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

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