What Makes a PIM System Great?

This feature article was contributed by Murray Oles, President of Chalex Corp, makers of workflow software SmartFlo, and DAM platform ArtFlo.


A Product Information Management (PIM) system is a concept that establishes a single source of product-data truth for the enterprise supply chain.  To successfully commercialize new or existing products, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies require accurate product data in real-time.  This can be a challenge when the required data is distributed across supply chain partners, constantly changing, or in the case of new products, yet to be formulated.

The labeling of food and household products is regulated, and increasingly more complex. Many CPG companies rely on spreadsheets to help manage their product commercialization process, but speed, and quality are the compromise.  Manual re-entry of known data slows the process down and can negatively impact brand quality.  No one wants to read about products being pulled from the shelf! But mistakenly mis-label a kosher product, and that is exactly what happens right before that inventory is destroyed. Fines for non-compliance can cause serious damage. The PIM system concept is the best defense against non-compliance, but what makes a great PIM?

Let’s start with the PIM concept. In short, a great PIM ensures product compliance in every form across all markets.  How a PIM ensures product compliance differentiates the great from the not-so-great solution. Manual product data entry into a spreadsheet is very common, but not-so-great.  Automatic data entry into a product briefing form is better, but that alone will not ensure product compliance in every form across all markets.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems proclaim PIM status by integrating an item database to manage product data such as, recipes & ingredients, raw & finished goods inventory, production capabilities, capacities and, schedules. How the item data is populated and maintained is where these ERP-based PIM solutions often come up short.

Cyber security and firewalls protect critical systems. Shared data must be securely and dynamically exchanged in real-time, and at the task-level. Through human oversight and collaboration with supply chain partners production workflows exchange data to establish and document compliant products.

To create “secure” pathways to ERP system data, many IT departments use iPaaS providers (integration platform as a service).  These are third party data handlers that securely chaperone data exchange. Connecting users across multiple SaaS services is often achieved through single-sign-on technology.  Application user’s login by using their Facebook or Google credentials. iPaaS platforms do the same thing with a little more oversight.

Regulatory requirements for product labeling are constantly changing to provide more transparency about ingredients, claims, and food science. Recently reported in Food Engineering, “With a mandatory compliance date of January 1, 2022, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) rule, “National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard,” requires “food manufacturers, importers and other entities that label foods for retail sale to disclose information about bioengineered (BE) food and BE food ingredients”.  By linking suppliers to ingredients, recipes and products, a fully configured PIM will be able to report on all the bio-engineered ingredients in use for specific products.

Digital Asset Management systems claim PIM status by managing the metadata and versioning of digital assets in the enterprise’s “digital asset library”. This is a common solution for managing product information, but workflow enabled DAM systems are not the same as DAM enabled workflow systems. DAM workflows help librarians enter metadata about products. This asset check-in often occurs after the product has been approved, but before going to market.  Cyber librarians add property values to digital files and attaches nodes to link the asset to a pre-defined taxonomy.   This labor helps facilitate “intuitive” asset search.

Business Process Management (BPM) systems run projects and jobs through pre-defined workflows. Product commercialization workflows begin with a concept that progresses through stages of development that lead to the placement of new products on store shelves. During the process, information is exchanged and digital assets supporting the process are introduced, refined, and reviewed. Projects may require multiple workflows that task supply chain partners with completing assignments on-time and in full.

There are no standards defining the ideal PIM.  It is a concept.  There are multiple PIM systems being promoted by ERP, DAM, and BPM vendors.  They all do a job.

The most agilie PIM solution centers on process management.   ERP and DAM systems house product data while workflows automate data exchange, facilitate editing, and manage asset version control for projects and jobs.

A great PIM integrates data and process automation across supply chain workflows.  In this way, products coming to market, whether new or existing, route through selected workflows that feed task performers with known data while clearly identifying and monitoring all new data for the current production version of the product.  As each iteration of a product comes to market, its’ project workflow, data entry, and task completions become part of the historical lifecycle of each market version. The PIM maintains the historical record through the project and job logs that are maintained in virtual Project and Job folders. The workflow manages the automated exchange of data between ERP, DAM and MRM systems according to the common data keys configured for the enterprise. A virtual job bag, with its job ticket, completed forms, digital assets, and comment log, is loosely coupled to a workflow at runtime. Completed jobs can be re-stored for minor alterations at any completed task, or re-started by linking the original job bag with an entirely new workflow.

PIM is a concept with unique enterprise relevance.  ERP, MRM, CRM, DAM are system acronyms that have evolved over time, each representing a technological path.  PIM is a journey toward a goal of fewer mistakes, greater efficiency, and stronger brands.  Like any journey it requires planning and preparation.   IT pioneers created their own unique treasure maps for reaching their “gold”.   A well-marked trail represents opportunity for the “trail guides”.  These are consultants, some with “magic quadrants”, each eager to lead newcomers to their promised land.

Process planning is at the center of a great PIM. The journey from concept to shelf is supported by technology tools and systems. Product workflows, like trail maps, point the way from task to tasks with loops and bridges as needed. Without the map maker, the PIM loses its agility.  Business Process Management is the purpose-built process mapper that guides production while managing product information across the supply chain.

About Murray Oles

Murray Oles is President of Chalex  – a company specialising in enterprise process and information management solutions.  Their product line includes SmartFlo and ArtFlo – a multi-tenant SaaS workflow and process management platform with an accompanying DAM.

You can connect with Murray via his LinkedIn profile.

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