What is Product Information Management (PIM) in a Multimedia World?

Product Information Management & Syndication Cycle

What is Production Information Management (PIM)? PIM refers to the processes for handling all the structured data, unstructured content, and digital assets related to products. To market and sell products through multiple distribution channels this is important. Also, a PIM ensures the creation of quality data for internal use and multichannel distribution. A lot of webshop systems said to include a PIM. But in most cases, the functionality is at best rudimentary for managing global, multilingual product catalogs. It is often just enough to get a reasonable looking product data-sheet online in a given webshop.

We started in 2001 with our own PIM as a foundation for the open catalog project Open Icecat. Long before PIMs were recognized, the acronym PIM was not yet coined, and the PIM software industry was not yet formed.

3 Letter Abbreviations

Further, adding to the confusion there are a lot of three letter acronyms with a similar or related meaning to PIM. Among others, PDM (Product Data Management), PCM (Product Content or Catalog Management), PRM (Product Resource Management), PLM (Product Lifecycle Management), DRM (Digital Rights Management), CMS (Content Management Systems), DAM (Digital Asset Management), MAM (Media Asset Management), CMP (Cross Media Publishing), MDM (Master Data Management) and ECM (Enterprise Content Management). Let’s try to clarify the field a bit.

What is true Product Information Management?

So, what’s a true PIM then? In essence, it is an information system that facilitates a publisher. This can be a brand owner, retailer, or independent. That will define a taxonomy for its product domain. And, gather and combine any type of information conforming to the product taxonomy in one database environment. And publish standardized product information for online and offline purposes. It’s about media types as:

  • product identifiers like brand name, manufacturer part code and/or ISBN, GTIN or other universal identifiers*
  • categorization (according to UNSPSC and/or other standards)*
  • multilingual marketing texts, descriptions and/or disclaimers*
  • fully standardized product specs, grouped in spec groups*
  • Images of products *
  • product variants, for example whereby specs like sizes and color can vary
  • product relations for cross-selling, up-sell (alternatives) and compatibility
  • Videos of products (normally in MP4)
  • 3D/360 degrees animations in an HTML5 compatible format
  • leaflets and user manuals (usually in PDF)
  • reasons-to-buy
  • feature logos, videos, and related multilingual texts
  • HTML5 based mini-sites

There’s a whole world behind every media type as mentioned above. And the more important online advertising and ecommerce become, the more these worlds expand into differentiated universes.

Synonyms PDM, PCM, PRM, ECM

A PIM is more or less synonymous with PDM – Product Data Management. Except that in computer science “data” refers to databases and “information” refers to data that is meaningful for a certain user. In that sense, one could go even further by defining PKM – Product Knowledge Management – as an environment in which meaningful relations between products are maintained. For example, compatibility information: which memory module fits in which computer.

Also, synonyms for Product Information Management are PCM (Product Content or Catalog Management), PRM (Product Resources Management), and ECM (Enterprise Content Management). It’s just a matter of taste, commercial emphasis, and linguistics. It’s hardly worthwhile to spend much thought on it. In the context of Icecat, we tend to talk about PIMS – Product Information Management & Syndication. As the need of brand owners is not just to organize and use their product information internally. But also disseminate it to any and all their business partners, in accordance with their respective syndication policies. Many concurrent PIM solutions miss the capabilities to seamlessly communicate with the rest of the world.

Taxonomy Management at its Core

The taxonomy is a core database within a PIM. It defines the data model per product category and the database integrity rules per product attribute in the data model. It also defines the units in which specifications are expressed (Gigabyte, mm, inch), conversion rules between, like the imperial and metric systems, and the spec value tables with allowed values per attribute. A great taxonomy standardizes its domain completely so that any conversion, mapping, or translation can be fully automated. In a flexible PIM, taxonomy management is a separate engine that allows for domain-specific, multilingual, and localized data model creation.

Key sub-system of a PIM: DAM

Digital Asset Management (DAM) is one of the core functions of a PIM. To structure rich media types in one file, we use “asset”. Such as a PDF, JPG or another image, and MP4 video. A DAM is therefore a sub-system for a PIM. Sometimes, we use Media Asset Management (MAM) as a synonym of DAM.

To create and manage a lot of metadata separate DAM system is important. For example, in case that image recognition plays a role. It is logical that separate, specialized systems are used to take care of such AI (Artifical Intelligence) functionalities.

Core-function: Digital Rights Management

Another core-functionality of a PIM and a DAM is Digital Rights Management (DRM). This is a set of functionalities to control which user is authorized to access and/or manage which information. For example, a brand’s product manager might be responsible only for a certain product line. And a brand’s authorized resellers might be the only ones authorized to download certain rich media assets.

Enterprise systems and Product Information Management

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Content Management Systems (CMS) are broader than what a PIM requires. Within enterprises lots of other data types, which are not directly related to products, but certain enterprise processes, are generated and need to be managed. A CMS is often effectively an enterprise website management system that manages the presence of an enterprise online. This might include product data exported by a PIM, but also other data and HTML templates.

Sometimes an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system confuses with a PIM as well. But an ERP mainly focusses on logistical processes and thus logistical data, which are highly volatile by nature. Often an ERP system provides some basic data (product identifiers, price and availability) to a PIM.

Product Lifecyle Management

Enterprises use a Product Lifecyle Management (PLM) to describe processes that manage the information related to a product from its inception to its market introduction and finally its end-of-life (EOL) status. A PLM contains a lot of data about a product that a manufacturer would never publish. Such as business secrets, supplier information, R&D and test data, internal communication, data about older product versions, data about products that are never introduced to the market. A PLM might be used to feed a PIM with the product information of the final product as it’s released to the market, and to which marketing materials are added by the marketing and sales departments responsible for the success of a product on the market.

Finally, Master Data Management (MDM) is used as a term to indicate the need within an enterprise to manage a “Single Version of Truth”: which system is leading for what. In modern, e-commerce-ready enterprises, a PIM is containing the master data regarding products as promoted on the market. And to use an ERP, for example, a leading regarding any logistical product information such as stock, pricing per customer, and order history.

Vendor Central

A relatively new trend is that e-commerce platforms are opening up their PIM environments for their suppliers or vendors. For example, think of Amazon Vendor Central, Google Manufacturer Center, and Icecat’s free Vendor Central. Avoiding manual data-entry requires seamless API integrations.

There’s a whole lot more to say about the world of PIM. In addition, we will continue to publish on the subject.

Founder and CEO of Icecat NV. Investor. Ph.D.

  • commented on August 12, 2019 by Dany

    Martijn, thank you for such a clear comparison of different systems!
    I would like to add something regarding ERP and PIM systems. You said that “Often an ERP system provides some basic data (product identifiers) to a PIM”, I think this is not the only task that an ERP system can perform for a PIM software. Speaking of online shops, the combination of these two systems will also allow monitoring the availability of inventory and its replenishment that, as a result, ensures the rapid enrichment of product information. For an easier understanding of their differences and interaction, I advise to read this article: https://treopim.com/journal/what-is-the-difference-between-pim-and-erp-do-you-need-both

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