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180 zettabytes – that’s right! That’s the amount of data that’s going to be doing the rounds by 2025 (Statista).
While not all of this is going to be product data, you can rest assured that the share of product data in the larger scheme of things is going to grow exponentially. Digital commerce has gained critical mass, and it is only going to expand into newer territories, becoming increasingly embedded into buying journeys. And product data is going to be at the center of it all.
Enter PIM (a segue that has been used before, but it is more relevant now than ever before, so why not!).
As a centralized control center for product data, product information management (PIM) systems give you complete visibility and control over product data right from data ingestion and management to enrichment and distribution. It turns product data into a universal language shared by stakeholders and customers across the board. Read more about why PIM is integral to your digital commerce strategy here
That said, PIM can create just as many problems as it solves, especially when you don’t find the right solution for your business. Honestly, there are more than a few things that can go wrong. For example, while the PIM might be built on great technology, it may not have the required flexibility to adapt to growing business requirements. Implementation challenges could mean that though you have a super slick PIM on hand, but you are not able to leverage the benefit due to staggered and delayed implementation.
Another major challenge is large lock-in periods with built-in technical debt.
"You pay a bomb for the software, but it takes forever to pay dividends."
Even worse, if the software is built on faulty code (or code that’s not suitable for your business), the faulty technology and inherent loops – technical debt – will mean that your teams will spend more time adjusting for errors and bugs, rather than using their time more productively.
We’ve already touched upon how implementation failure can bring the down the house of cards. It is therefore critical to ask everything you can about implementation. How smooth and seamless the implementation will it be? How long will it take? How much downtime do you need to contend with? How much support will you receive post-implementation? In an ideal scenario, you should get a quantitative and qualitative understanding of the entire implementation process.
Equally important as the quality of the PIM system itself, is to have a PIM that easily integrates with other systems in your business including content management systems (CMS), product catalogs, digital stores, eCommerce marketplaces, distribution channels, and so on. You must also get a clear understanding of how long these integrations would take, and what would be the expected impact of the same.
Also, you need to enquire about how APIs (Application Programming Interface) will be used. This technology is used to allow two pieces of technology to communicate with each other. The PIM system should offer the entire range of APIs required to exchange information between the PIM and all other integrated systems.
With thousands of SKUs and associated product data to deal with, manually checking each product for completeness, relevance and validity is an arduous task. Even if you have the manpower to do so, errors are inevitable. In this scenario, endless spreadsheets are not the answer. However, is the PIM tool capable enough of taking over the task of validation and governance?
The first question to ask in this context is how does the PIM handle large volumes of data in terms of reporting
Does the PIM provide a detailed report with actionable data?
An ideal PIM system should have the capability of scanning through a large product database and provide a clear indication of various aspects that you may want to look into. This could include data completeness, accuracy, consistency or any other aspect that you would like to dial in. This is what brings us to the next big question. How much can you “dial in”? Will the PIM let you define the parameters of measurement so the reports you get can be used for a better customer experience?
Improved customer service and satisfaction are the top two reasons that businesses go for PIM, states a Ventana Research survey.
This does seem like a no-brainer, but this is where it becomes important to ask the PIM (product information management) service provider how will this be achieved. What are the channels you’re looking to sell on? Does the PIM service enable you to seamlessly sell on those relevant channels? Again, how will the PIM system improve time-to-market, and is the PIM system capable of versioning product data for multiple channels? At the end of the day, you must look for a system that reduces manual intervention, and improves customer experience with higher quality data, and close-to-zero errors. And this is what brings us to the next big question:
From the outset, we already know that there’s only one way that data volume is headed in the future – up. More customers, more products, more interactions equal more data. This makes it imperative for the PIM system to be capable of handling the present volume of data in your system, and also a lot more. A good way to address this question is to first establish a current benchmark for the amount of data you handle, and scale it up by, say, 100 times per week. You can then ask if the PIM would be capable of handling this surge in volume.
This is where a cloud-based PIM built on the “software-as-a-service”, or SaaS model, provides a big advantage. That said, you still need to make sure you get your hands on the right PIM SaaS; one that’s capable and authentic. Hence the need to get a realistic picture of how PIM will handle scalability now, and in the future.
Just because a PIM system has been created by tech-gurus, doesn’t mean you need to hire one to run it. In fact, while older PIM systems were all about getting the job done, the focus, now, has increasingly been shifted to UX and UI design. Why? Because if you can’t use it, you’ll never see value in it.
Since the end users of PIM software are not just tech users, these systems must be easy to understand and use. Lack of “user friendliness” is one of the top deterrents of adoption. So, when selecting a PIM, make sure you ask exactly how easy the PIM is to use. This scope of this question could include sub-questions such as how long will training take, what is the technical acumen required to master PIM, and if a team member is stuck with a problem they can’t resolve, what next?
Continuing from our last point, you must also ask what level of support your teams can expect post implementation. The world might have been promised to you before you invest in a PIM, but the real value comes from support that follows PIM implementation.
In fact, “customer success support” is not just about intermittent troubleshooting. You must ask your PIM provider “what next?”. An ideal PIM software provider will ensure that you don’t just implement PIM, but will also provide you with the right support to ensure that your teams are making the most out of it. Do they possess the understanding of your business, and your unique requirements, to be able to help you make the most of the PIM? Do they understand different moving parts within the organization? Do they understand your business objectives? It is these aspects that are truly foundational to PIM success stories.
This is perhaps the most important question to ask, purely because almost no PIM service provider these days limits their services to PIM itself. Likely, the PIM you go with will also offer the option to avail add-ons such as dedicated a digital asset management (DAM) , syndication options, integration with different marketplaces and delivery channels, and lots more. The point here is to find a combination that fits your requirements the best. There is a good chance that going for a combined package will drive down the cost of ownership drastically as compared to buying into individual services. Then again, you also want these solutions to be composable and flexible. It shouldn’t come down to a situation where you’re stuck with services that your business doesn’t really need.
And to wrap it up, do make sure you ask for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities. Some business leaders feel that AI and ML are things of the future, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Technologies such as AI, ML and robotic process automation (RPA) are already common among industry leaders, and are also the norm for most forward-looking businesses.
The conversation on PIM and the right questions to ask can be a long one, but it’s also surely an interesting one. The more clarity you have on (a) your business requirements and (b) how a PIM can solve these business problems, the higher the chance of you being ahead of the pack from the get go. And if expert guidance is what you’re looking for, do make sure you have a