With the acceleration of digital transformations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, almost every organization is facing challenges in how they are managing data, content and knowledge. As a result, they are working on improving how information is captured, managed, and distributed.
Reduced time to market, prompt and appropriate responses to customer needs, and the ability to react to competitors and changing market conditions are mandates and table stakes in every industry.
In order to do these things effectively, companies must master and syndicate information in a streamlined and frictionless fashion.
A critical part of this information agility is the ability to deal with product information.
Product information is the lifeblood not just for eCommerce companies, but also for manufacturers, engineers, and companies that do not traditionally conduct transactions on a website.
Many complex, configurable solutions also rely on having good product data so that customers can research and find solutions on their own. Without the right data, products are invisible to prospects and customers.
Many organizations have been increasing their focus on an intentional approach to managing their product content and information using two classes of technology that have been evolving. These include product information management (PIM) software and product content management (PCM) platforms such as web content management (WCM) and enterprise content management (ECM).
What is PIM?
PIM deals with the data relating to products, including the ways in which categories and various product descriptors (attributes) are defined, mastered, and orchestrated across systems.
A product has “is-ness” – the thing that we call it – “this is a TV” – and “about-ness” – the various details of the TV such as the type and size of the screen, the manufacturer, the price, and the various technical specifications.
Modern PIM technologies allow for the definition and management of these details, and also allow for the integration of that information with other systems. A PIM is not just a repository, but a system that allows for syndication of information, both to capture information from other systems and to push it out to external systems. For example, manufacturers syndicate information to distributors, retailers, and other channel partners.
Think of PIM as a traffic cop for product data.
PIMs also allow for centralized and standardized governance and data quality processes.
What is PCM?
Product content management (PCM), on the other hand, focuses on the management of publishable product information along with related assets and content, and not on the attributes of the products themselves.
These assets can include imagery (photos, drawings or video – so-called rich media) as well as supporting marketing assets.
This type of software is well suited to manage an end point in the information supply chain, such as an eCommerce site, and less as an intermediary meant to transform, translate, parse, and syndicate information, which is the role
Problems arise when the wrong category of software is pressed into service in a situation for which it is not a good match. We describe three cases in which the same technology (SAP Hybris) was implemented, two of which were unsuccessful, and one that was successful.
Hybris, a Swiss company, was purchased by SAP in 2013 to support its eCommerce initiatives. Its technology was reconfigured several times, and the name included in several different applications. Currently the only reference to Hybris in SAP’s product lineup states that SAP Marketing Cloud was formerly SAP Hybris Solutions. In August 2019, SAP introduced SAP Product Content Hub, a cloud-based product information management solution (PIM), but this product was not available at the time that the deployments described below were implemented. The lessons learned could apply to any projects in which software transitions or product data information management is relevant.
The Tale of Three Implementations
Case 1: Diversified global manufacturer - getting away from legacy systems
One company that went down the wrong path was an early adopter of SAP Hybris, which was originally sold as a next-generation enterprise PIM, and a logical extension of SAP’s portfolio, which includes ERP and CRM products. The company was desperate to migrate off legacy systems, some of which were out of date and reaching end of life. The distinctions between PIM and PCM were not as clear at the time throughout the industry, so the company lacked a full understanding of the functionality of SAP Hybris.
As gaps were identified in the product data model, it became clear that Hybris could not effectively serve the needs of the multiple hierarchies and complex product data models as would be expected from an enterprise PIM.
EIS defined an interim data model as well as a future model that would better meet the needs of the enterprise and developed a long-term plan to migrate to a more appropriate model.
In addition, the company allocated five IT employees and 20 individuals from within the business units to assist with the design process.
The company admits candidly that if they could go back in time, they would not implement a PCM but instead would have opted for a true PIM. But for now, years later, they are stuck with a product that has severe limitations. The outcome was a poorly performing website and several FTEs locked in manual data entry roles working around missing Hybris integrations. High-priced specialist agencies have spent months working to enable simple functionalities such as data quality reports and data upload spreadsheets. The likely future for the company is to implement a PIM at some point in the future. For the time being, they spend millions per year working around Hybris issues manually.
Case 2: Large electronics manufacturer - replacing a home-grown PIM/PCM app
SAP Hybris was selected by this company to replace a home-grown PIM/PCM application that had become unmanageable. Hybris was a logical candidate due to a recent SAP implementation in the company. Part of the Hybris implementation plan included a sunset of the company’s homegrown PIM, which everyone agreed would become obsolete after Hybris was implemented. However, once again, the product was described as a PIM but did not have PIM functionality.
EIS was tasked with addressing product hierarchies, taxonomies, attribute design, data quality, governance, workflow processes and facilitated workshops to catalyze the cultural change necessitated by a large-scale digital transformation.
Early in the implementation it became clear that many Hybris customizations would be required to retain legacy functionalities. Moreover, the Hybris implementation team did not have a logical data model (or physical data model) to align on with stakeholders.
Almost immediately after “go-live” they migrated their master data back to the legacy system. This rollback entailed significant re-work. However, some aspects of the implementation did work out. The hierarchy EIS developed in the redesign was successful, and the updated ecommerce taxonomy remains active years later.
EIS and the agency that was leading the web re-design and was also the Hybris implementer, on behalf of IT and marketing, eventually aligned on a logical data model and related requirements. A roadmap helped assure the customer that obstacles were being overcome.
Piloting and quick wins were an important part of the program and worked well to confirm plans and show meaningful progress.
Case 3: Large B2B manufacturer - integrating PIM, DAM, and ecommerce
Hybris was initially selected by a large B2B manufacturer to drive eCommerce for a single division of the company. The decision to implement Hybris was made as the company was struggling to integrate PIM, DAM and eCommerce with a competing platform. Hybris was sold appropriately as a PCM that would receive master product information from a market-leading traditional PIM application.
Although Hybris was expected to be extended throughout the company, it was initially implemented as a PCM to drive eCommerce for a single division. The division went through a full implementation, including go live and maintenance, before the solution was fully documented and extended company-wide.
By limiting the initial implementation, the company ensured that Hybris had the ability to bundle content from the PIM, the digital asset management (DAM) system, and other SAP applications before moving forward with the rollout.
The use of a PIM in combination with Hybris led to a successful implementation. Many website layout options were mocked up, which allowed the company to make well-considered choices about what would work best. Hybris can be stood up relatively easily if backed by a PIM. As a PCM, Hybris seems to takes advantage of connectors and general ease of integration with SAP. Overall, the Hybris implementation was extremely straightforward and successful.
PIM vs PCM Lessons Learned
- Over the years, the capabilities and branding of Hybris evolved, and the product became better understood by the marketplace. It was initially marketed incorrectly as a PIM solution, which produced considerable confusion.
- Be sure that your company has an in-depth understanding of what any new software can and can’t do. It seems obvious, but since vendors may stretch interpretations to claim capabilities that a product does not have, careful evaluation and comparison of products is essential.
- In some cases, product capabilities change over time, and industry terminology is not always clear. Various components of Hybris were rebranded in 2018; for example, SAP Hybris Commerce became SAP Commerce Cloud, but the Hybris name has persisted.
- Start with a logical data model to align all stakeholders on a common frame of reference. This is fundamental because it is the foundation on which data is organized, disseminated, and analyzed.
- Establish the product hierarchies, taxonomies, attribute design, data quality, governance, workflow processes, and don’t ignore the importance of managing the cultural change.
- Allow sufficient time for attribute normalization and cleansing after the hierarchy design is settled. This process is often straightforward, but it takes time and effort, and the new system will not work unless this is carried out conscientiously.
If you think that your current solution for product information management isn’t all that it could be, talk to us sooner rather than later. Our PIM Selection Service can help you identify the right product for your needs.