Building materials is a very diverse product group. Even within a manufacturing enterprise there may be considerable variances in what kind of product information you need for different product groups. If production is taking place on plants around the world, then local demands and cultural differences is another source of diversity in how product information is handled.
In many cases building materials are not sold directly to end users, but are forwarded in the supply chain to re-sellers being distributors/wholesalers, merchants/dealers and marketplaces. These trading partners each have their range of products and specific requirements for product information which makes it very hard for you as the manufacturer to prepare product information that fits all.
The IT enabled discipline aimed at solving such challenges is called product data syndication. There are namely these three kinds of product data syndication relevant to manufacturers:
- Enterprise wide product data sharing aiming at linking, transforming and consolidating product information created by various business units and production sites around the world. The goal is to have consistent, accurate and timely information ending up in one place, often being an in-house Product Information Management (PIM) or Master Data Management (MDM) solution.
- Ecosystem wide product data syndication push aiming at providing product information to re-sellers in a uniform way. On the other hand, it should be possible for the diverse crowd of re-sellers to pull that information adhering to each one’s requirements for format, completeness and conformity at a certain time.
- Ecosystem wide product data syndication pull also in many cases applies to a manufacturer. It is not unusual that a manufacturer complements the own produced product range with trading goods supplied from other manufacturers, where product information must be provided by those. In addition to that manufacturers buys raw materials, spare parts for machinery and other MRO (Maintenance, Repair, Operation) products where product information is needed when the surrounding processes must be automated.
Through emerging technology in Product Data Lake we offer a solution to these challenges. We emphasize on these capabilities:
- Product Data Quality aiming at improvements of completeness of product data, as well as the accuracy, timeliness, consistency and conformity of the product information shared with trading partners and end users.
- Product Data Syndication Freedom, as the solution is suited for consolidating enterprise wide diversities and pushing information to trading partners in a uniform way while making it possible for trading partners to pull the product information in their many ways.
Learn more about the solution and the benefits for manufacturers of building materials on the About Product Data Push page.
Who should have the burden of lifting product information as you as a manufacturer have it to the way it is presented at the digital point-of-sales provided by your merchants? Often this seems to be stalled in a standoff as described in the post Passive vs Active Product Information Exchange.
Most companies participating in cross company supply chains use spreadsheets for exchanging product data. Doing that is very cumbersome, error-prone and does in most cases not provide the needed data quality for providing self-service ready product data to your re-sellers.
The most common way of using spreadsheets for this is that a merchant gives each of his suppliers a spreadsheet with columns of attributes based on the merchants taxonomy to be filled out. As a supplier, you will typically be tasked with filling in a different spreadsheet from each of your downstream re-seller. This is very inefficient seen from a supplier perspective.
Deploying customer (and supplier) portals for product information
There is a tendency when deploying Product Information Management (PIM) solutions, that you may want to add a portal for your trading partners:
- If you are a manufacturer, you could have a customer portal where your downstream re-sellers can fetch the nicely arranged product information that is the result of your PIM implementation.
- If you are a merchant, you could have a supplier portal where your upstream suppliers can deliver their information nicely arranged according to your product information standards in your PIM implementation.
This is a death trap for both manufacturers and merchants, because:
- As a trading manufacturer and merchant, you probably follow different standards, so one must obey to the other. The result is that one side will have a lot of manual and costly work to do to obey the strongest trading partner. Only a few will be the strongest all time.
- If all manufacturers have a customer portal and all merchants have a supplier portal everyone will be waiting for the other and no product information will flow in the supply chains.
At Product Data Lake we offer manufacturers and merchants an honorable way out of this standoff by offering Product Data Syndication Freedom.
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.
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.