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My journey of Master Data Management started with a retail customer who was using MDM for Product Information Management (PIM). I worked with this organization to help them architect a new MDM environment to improve their business operations. Establishing one master data repository for product data required consolidating and integrating data from other systems to provide a single view of product master. We built rules to improve data quality, enabled mass maintenance of product data and created a rich and extensible data model to capture product attributes.

From my experience working with projects involving both customer and product master implementations, here is an effort to list down few unique characteristics of PIM projects. I am also discussing challenges specific to PIM which are not seen often in customer master data management implementations.

PIM solutions store master data and metadata related to products and their attributes. Product attributes differ considerably as we move across different industries. For example, a retail product attributes are very different compared to a services product by a telecommunication provider.

One of the primary characteristics of a PIM project is the Dynamicity & Volume of product attributes. As we all know products have diverse set of attributes associated with them. Unlike customer data which typically has an address, phone number, identifier etc product attributes change across categories. For example, electronic products have a set of completely different attributes compared to Beauty and Health products. Further, within the electronic product category, the laptops have a new set of attributes like processor speed, memory, screen size compared to cameras which have resolution, lens size, shutter speed. The numbers of product attributes are usually large and more often need to be segregated so as to get meaningful insights about them. Also, as the enterprises are getting global presence, there are requirements for strong localization, support for multiple languages, currencies and units-of-measure. To support these aspects of product data, the data model used for managing product master should be easily extensible.

PIM implementations typically involve handling complex Hierarchies & Categories. Each product needs to be categorized with multiple levels of categories and sub categories. These categories themselves may belong to one or more hierarchies depending on the departments which manage them. A sophisticated hierarchy management and easy categorization of the products is the basic requirement of the MDM product used in these implementations. Also, the interface should be capable of allowing easier movement of products across hierarchies and categories.

One of the major advantages of implementing product master data management system is to ensure faster time to market. This can be achieved by designing collaborative solutions for product workflows such as New Product Introduction (NPI), product update flows. These workflows should be designed considering different steps involved in the creation/update of a product, departments involved, attributes of the product each user/group is responsible for, authorization/approvals need to be taken etc. Each step in these workflows should have embedded quality check and validation logic so as to ensure clean and consistent data. The notifications and automated movement of products between the steps in case of delayed approvals ensure delivery of new products in stipulated timeframe. This helps in achieving true 360 view of product information for diverse targets of use.

As much as we want to load data to MDM repository, it is equally important to send the clean data feed back to source to keep the systems in synchronization. Easier Import, Export and Report generation to distribute or publish master data will be very useful feature in MDM. Most vendors allow seamless integration of data between PIM data hub and any application using service oriented architecture.

Product master is one of the complex data to manage. There are many vendors who provide solutions to manage this data effectively. Organizations have to choose right MDM product which is easy to configure, is highly customizable, extensible and at the same time upgradable. A sophisticated PIM implementation can have dramatic effects on revenue and increasing profit. The solution will help in speeding up the data management process and cut costs.

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