PIM Systems Are Hard: The unreasonable difficulty of delivering great product content

PIM Systems Are Hard: The unreasonable difficulty of delivering great product content

Product Information Management (PIM) systems provide brands a better way to manage product content. Centralizing product content not only makes it more efficient to work with, it also makes it easier to keep that content updated on retailer sites.

But most PIM solutions, whether off-the-shelf or home-grown, lack some of the basic functionality for getting product content right. It's up to the content manager or E-Commerce team to fill in the blanks. 

What's Missing?

Most PIM systems were not designed for today's retail market:

  • They are complex systems that require months, if not years, to implement
  • They require your data to be organized in the PIM system's structure
  • If they support syndication to retailers, such syndication was implemented as a bolt-on to existing systems, rather than being built-in from the get-go
  • They lack the visibility into retailer systems to identify whether product content has gone live and is staying live at retailers.
All of this creates a huge amount of complexity that content, E-Commerce, and supply chain managers are expected to handle.

What's a content manager to do?

There are three ways to address the challenge of delivering great product content:

1. Keep doing what you're doingspreadsheets and local files

2. Build your own PIM

3. Invest in a partner solution

Spreadsheets and local files

Implementing a product content workflow without a PIM solution is possible. It means you implement some form of the following:

1. Gather a collection of template files and retailer portal logins in a local folder and spreadsheet

2. Export product data from your supply chain system to a CSV or XLSX file, or enter it manually

3. Copy and paste product data from your source spreadsheet to each retailer template or portal

4. Make copies of image and video files

5. Rename image and video files in each retailer's required format (or upload those files to a file sharing service and copy the links to them, if the retailer requires links instead of files)

6. Upload each template file and the image/video files to ftp servers, email addresses, or web portals

7. Check if the content has gone live

8. Repeat the process for new product content

Here's what that looks like:

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 6.32.09 PM

Build your own PIM (BYOP)

An alternative to the cumbersome manual workflow described above is to build your own PIM solution. In fact, we've worked with multiple clients who have experimented with this approach (often costing millions of dollars and multiple years of investment).

Building your own PIM means you'll implement some form of the following:

1. Define requirements for your PIM

2. Obtain initial budget approval

3. Write specifications

4. Recruit or shift resources to software development team 

5. Implement connectors/exporters for major retailers so that content can be exported from PIM system to retailers

6. Perform system testing

7. Import content into PIM system

8. Export/syndicate content

9. Check retailers to see if content was received and has gone live

10. Obtain additional budget to support on-going investment

11. Update PIM functionality based on additional requirements and market changes

Here's what that looks like:

Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 11.05.40 AM

That's a lot of steps. Building your own PIM requires a complete product, product management and engineering team, long-term allocation of dedicated budget and resources, and time.

If you can overcome the budget, headcount, and on-going maintenance (once the system is up and running) challenges, your biggest challenge overall may be time to market. Each of the steps above will take multiple months (if not longer) to execute. Put them together and that could add up to several years before you have a system live.

Would it make more sense to find a partner who can meet your functionality, cost, and schedule requirements?

Let's take a look.

Invest in a partner solution

In some ways, investing in a third-party (partner) solution has the most potential upside but also the most risk. Choose the wrong partner and you might be stuck in implementation for six months, 12 months or longer before you get a single piece of content updated or a new item setup.

To invest in a partner solution, you'll need to do some form of the following:

1. Define requirements

2. Identify potential partners

3. Vet partners

4. Define joint roadmap

5. Sign contract

6. Implement 

7. Iterate

It is step #4 that has changed the most in recent years. Step #4 didn't exist before today's Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) world. You took off-the-shelf (installed) software, a consulting team built some additional software that tried to make up for the gaps in the off-the-shelf software, and that became your solution.

There wasn't much a customer could do to influence the direction of the core product outside of major releases, which only happened every few years. There were joint roadmaps, but they were typically measured in three to five year timeframes.

Fortunately, the model has changed, and more and more enterprises are partnering closely with technology vendors to help define both their near and long-term product roadmaps. That means significant enhancements to products in a matter of weeks or months, rather than years. Let's take a look at what that looks like:

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 8.26.18 PM

If there is the likelihood that your PIM system will become integral to optimizing your on-going retail workflows, you'll want to bet on a partner, not a specific solution.

If you want to get up and running fast, with minimal implementation time and a partner who will incorporate your requirements on an on-going basis, you might try Content Analytics. Our mission is to deliver the content and analytics solutions you need so you can spend your time focusing on creating, merchandising and selling great products both online and in-store.

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