Passive vs Active Product Information Exchange

Product information is the kind of data that usually flows cross company. The most common routes start with that the hard facts about a product originates at the manufacturer. Then the information may be used on the brands own website, propagated to a marketplace (online shop-in-shop) and also propagated downstream to distributors and retailers.

The challenge to the manufacturer is that this represent many different ways of providing product information, not at least when it comes to distributors and retailers, as these will require different structurers and formats using various standards and not being on the same maturity level.

Looking at this from the downstream side, the distributors and retailers, we have the opposite challenge. Manufacturers provide product information in different structurers and formats using various standards and are not on the same maturity level.

Supply chain participants can challenge this in a passive or an active way. Unfortunately, many have chosen – or are about to choose – the passive way. It goes like this:

  • As a manufacturer, we have a product data portal where trading partners who wants to do business with us, who obviously is the best manufacturer in our field, can download the product information we have in our structure and format using the standards we have found best.
  • As a distributor/retailer we have a supplier product data portal where trading partners who wants to do business with us, the leading player in our field, can upload the product information we for the time being will require in our structure and format using the standard(s) we have found best.

Passive vs ActiveThis approach seems to work if you are bigger than your trading partner. And many times one will be bigger than the other. But unless you are very big, you will in many cases not be the biggest. And in all cases where you are the biggest, you will not be seen as a company being easy to do business with, which eventually will decide how big you will stay.

The better way is the active way creating a win-win situation for all trading partners as described in the article about Product Data Lake Business Benefits.

What a PIM-2-PIM Solution Looks Like

The importance of having a viable Product Information Management (PIM) solution has become well understood for companies who participates in supply chains.

The next step towards excellence in PIM is to handle product information in close collaboration with your trading partners. Product Data Lake is the solution for that. Here upstream providers of product information (manufacturers and upstream distributors) and downstream receivers of product information (downstream distributors and retailers) connect their choice of in-house PIM solution or other product master data solution as PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) or ERP.

The PIM-2-PIM solution resembles a social network where you request and accept partnerships with your trading partners from the real world.

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After connecting the next to set up is how your product attributes and digital asset types links with the one used by your trading partner. In Product Data Lake we encompass the use of these different scenarios (in prioritized order):

  • You and your trading partner uses the same standard in the same version
  • You and your trading partners uses the same standard in different versions
  • You and your trading partner uses different standards
  • You and/or your trading partners don’t use a public standard

Read more about that and the needed data governance in the post Approaches to Sharing Product Information in Business Ecosystems.

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Then it is time to link your common products. This can be done automatically if you both use a GTIN (or the older implementations as EAN number or UPC) as explained in the post Connecting Product Information. Alternatively, model numbers can be used for matching or, as a last option, the linking can be done in the interactive user interface.

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Now you and your trading partner are set to start automating the process of sharing product information. In Product Data Lake upstream providers of product information can push new products, attribute values and digital assets from the in-house PIM solution to a hot folder, where from the information is uploaded by Product Data Lake. Downstream receivers can set up pull requests, where the linked product information is downloaded, so it is ready to be consumed by the in-house PIM solution.

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This process can now be repeated with all your other trading partners, where you reuse the elements that are common between trading partners and build new linking where required.

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