Product information

Product information management or PIM refers to processes and technologies focused on centrally managing information about products, with a focus on the data required to market and sell the products through one or more distribution channels. A central set of product data can be used to feed consistent, accurate and up-to-date information to multiple output media such as web sites, print catalogs, ERP systems, and electronic data feeds to trading partners. PIM systems generally need to support multiple geographic locations, multi-lingual data, and maintenance and modification of product information within a centralized catalog to provide consistently accurate information to multiple channels in a cost-effective manner.

The increasing number of channels for product data (e.g., web sites, print catalogs, electronic data feeds) emphasized the need for product information management, as information kept by businesses is frequently scattered throughout disparate departments and held by certain employees or systems instead of being available centrally. Product data often exists in ERP systems, R&D PLM systems, spreadsheets and personal databases. Data are saved in various formats or are only available in hard copy form. Information is utilized in varying environments and contexts such as for detailed product descriptions with pricing info in product catalogs or for size and weight data for calculating freight costs in a logistics department. PIM in this example represents a solution for centralized, media-independent data maintenance for providing purchasing, production and communications data for repeated use on/in multiple IT systems, languages, output media and publications. It also provides a solution for efficient data collection, management, refinement and output.

Synonyms and related terms

The term PIM has just recently come into currency, thus one finds a number of other terms that are similar or synonymous in meaning, usually deriving from other fields. These include:

  • PDM – Product data management derives from the concept of engineering data management (EDM), denoting systems for the effective management of product development data and the coordination of manufacturing-related processes. The term is used primarily in the field of computer-aided design (CAD).
  • PRM – Product resource management is used by some software providers as a synonym for PIM (Product Information Management), as well as Product Content Management (PCM), mainly popular as a term in England and France.
  • Product life-cycle management (PLM) refers more to a management strategy than to a specific IT technology, the goal of which is to optimize product life cycles through the gathering and analysis of product data generated over time.
  • Media asset management (MAM) refers to the management of unstructured multimedia objects such as images, graphics and presentations as well as ‘meta-information’ (data about data). The term is used primarily in the media business.
  • Cross media publishing (CMP) comes from the print and advertising industries, referring to the coordinated use of multiple media in complementary fashion. It also denotes the repeat usage of individual structural elements such as text, images or graphics within different media.
  • Product catalogue management

Link with enterprise content management

Enterprise content management is a term encompassing technologies, methods and tools used for gathering, imaging, storing, archiving and providing electronic content. Distinction can be made between four separate sub-areas. Document management systems (DMS) are deployed for archiving, and PDM involves the management of structured, technical data for such applications as parts diagrams and lists. Content management systems (CMS) are more commercially oriented and provide a framework for knowledge management or informational service offerings through the management of unstructured, document-type content. PIM systems are used to manage structured data in a business context for feeding into any kind of distribution channel, from electronic catalogs to online shops to print catalogs.

Technological basis of product information management (PIM)

PIM systems consolidate all product information onto a single platform. In terms of company IT infrastructure, this means having a PIM platform running over alongside a classic Oracle or open-source database such as MySQL with a J2EE application server, and/or xml based exchange of product information (e.g., using the Open ICEcat format). This forms a foundation upon which to build sales and procurement business processes. With PIM solutions, access and user authorizations for all database information, ordering processes linked with such inventory management systems as SAP and the mechanisms for modular expansions are managed via a web-based administration interface.

Current PIM applications

Electronic catalogs

Procurement systems and platforms such as online marketplaces are based upon electronic catalogs. PIM systems can load descriptive product information as content into a catalog management solution, where products are grouped and managed for specific target markets. Data exchange interface standards such as CNET, BMEcat and OCI allow seamless interchange of electronic catalogs between vendors on the one hand and purchasing firms and marketplace operators on the other. Procurement solutions are closely related, which automate the procurement process for purchasing goods and services. These create transparency for the product data of multiple vendors to support the centralized management of multi-supplier catalogs and facilitate price and quality research.

Website / web-shop content

Centralized data management is particularly well-suited for company websites, as documents, content and media objects such as product images can be linked with other business objects such as customers or products. An e-commerce component manages the ordering process and the online presentation of dynamic content. The solution has to integrate seamlessly into inventory management and logistics systems in order to provide real cost savings.

Product catalog

Centrally maintained data can also be accessed for print or CD catalogs and websites. The publishing component of an e-business solution creates pooled data, making it possible to save and manage catalog content in a media-independent manner. The better the layout and output capabilities of the associated desktop publishing program, the more catalog production can be automated.

The market for PIM solutions

PIM is still a young market segment. It only started gaining broader attention among customers in the second half of 2004, as market analysts and the media began taking a closer look at this type of solution.

PIM solutions are most relevant for use by medium to large-sized firms in retailing, consumer goods and manufacturing. The following are the primary considerations in opting for a PIM solution:

  • wide array of products
  • frequently changing product characteristics
  • non-uniform IT infrastructure (potentially resulting from merger activity)
  • successful online business
  • customer pressure to offer electronic ordering

PIM becomes strategically necessary when major customers start demanding that new data sharing standards (such as global data synchronization) be supported, in conjunction with an international expansion strategy. The effective consolidation of product information and reconfiguration of processes built thereupon is however critical for a successful strategic business outcome. A distributor of catalogs, for example, looking to expand into five new countries without having to realign its catalog production processes will probably be unable to execute on such a strategy.

PIM becomes essential when integrating with SaaS vendors. Keeping the core product classification consistent throughout a workflow involving multiple SaaS partners supports the core SaaS proposition of rapid to market, cost effective solutions.

See also


  • Thomas Lucas-Nülle: Product Information Management in Deutschland. Marktstudie 2005

External links

  • DMOZ
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