What can we learn from the real world to understand the PIM business and induce innovation.
My grandparents were farmers for most of their lives, they were born in their farm, they worked all their life in this farm producing corn, wheat and raising cows. They sold their whole production to local markets and cooperatives. That’s how people lived at that time.
Today, they do not work anymore and my once very active family farm is now a peaceful cul-de-sac, rehabilitated with family houses. However, You can still find relics of this old time like the barn and the fields situated all around the farm.
As I was rambling around the barn one day, between the rabbit hutch and the straw, I came to ask myself this simple question.
What is the core job of a farmer and how is it different from mine?
Of course my mum told me about how hard the life in the farm was as most of the work had to be done by hand and very few machines existed back then.
While thinking about it I found out that a farm is not so different from a PIM.
Bear with me here, the comparison might not make sense at first, or maybe it does but it seems meaningless or even off topic. But in my very humble opinion, I think there is some value in understanding this perspective that I would like to lay out in this essay.
A dematerialized farm…
In a farm, the base to make anything grow is to have some land. You need land to grow vegetables that will eventually feed your livestock which also needs some lands. Some land will be used to grow corn wheat and some land will be dedicated to feed the cows and sheep. It’s the base for anything to happen.
There are a few roles that a PIM intends to take on. One of the most important is its ability to create, hold, and evolve the catalog structure. It is the backbone, the minimum required for any product information to be put on a PIM.
The catalog’s structure defines the landscape of what the product information will look like and what kind of products will be put on the PIM.
So my first assertion is the following:
A catalog structure is to a PIM what the land is to the farm.
Additionally to an infrastructure, a farm needs some input. It needs some seeds! And if you are just starting off your first farm, it is most likely you might want to buy seeds from somewhere.
This is the same for the product information. In a classic online reseller computer architecture, all the product information is saved in the ERP system from which it is difficult to manage multi-language & multi-channel information. The product has a great potential but not unleashed yet because it does not live in the right environment. Does it ring a bell?
Yes, I think you see where I’m going with this:
A seed is equivalent to a product information stocked in the ERP system. Great potential, not the right environment for growth.
Then, you will need people (a loooot of people) to make that land grow some vegetables, feed the animal or treat them from diseases and so on.
In the same way, PIM customers need people to add, update or translate the catalog’s product information.
So here is my last assertion:
Just like a land is a place of people collaboration and processes, so is a PIM.
And we can find some other similarities:
- a farmer has some tools to work on the field, so does the PIM which let’s users edit information massively throughout the catalog with a precise range of impact.
- a farmer picks up only ripe vegetables, so does the PIM with products thanks to the completeness notion a PIM has.
- a farmer sells his harvest in local markets or a cooperative? PIM customers sell it online in marketplaces or in printed catalogs.
What I want you to see is that it is not too exaggerated to think that a PIM is only a digital farm. It lays out the land and tools for an effective product information growth.
Just like a farmer optimizes for vegetables and livestock growth, so does the PIM with product information.
Could it be much more?
In my point of view the parallel is important. Saying that two things are alike in different worlds can lead us to the following question: What is the first doing that can induce innovation to the latter?
Enhance the quality of the data
Especially in the organic world, when a farmer is harvesting he will make sure of a few things: first he will look at the size of the vegetable.. is it reasonable ? is it big enough? and he’ll eventually pick it up. That’s what PIM customer’s does thanks to the completeness feature.
But that’s not everything a farmer will seek! He also takes into account the taste: the amount of sugar, acidity and even the kind of emotion this vegetable provides.
Do we do the same in the PIM industry? I’d say not quite, the notion of completeness helps us define if a product is complete enough to be sent online, but that’s mostly it. Today’s PIM does not help the user to check the product information data correctness or even the overall accuracy of a product (e.g, it is possible to say that a screw driver weighs 1 ton without getting any warning from the system).
That’s a gap we could fill today by adding new metrics to check for a product’s completeness (or readiness) in an innovative way: spell check, sentiment analysis or even grow a knowledge-base of must-have information for specific products are some examples.
Today inside a PIM, most of the work of growing product information is made manually. One or more people with different skills go iteratively through all products information to add their bit of growth to it (one product after another or using mass actions).
But in our farm metaphor this way of working is not quite the same anymore. With the arrival of new chemicals, a farmer is now able to treat the soil before and after the seeds are planted or make them more resistant to specific bugs, diseases and optimize the plant’s growth at the same time!
Can a PIM use external services to influence it’s very own environment in order to reach its goal faster? What we are really looking for very much look like the emergence of APIs. Features like automatic translation or automatic product information completion are now possible thanks to novel techniques: e.g. machine learning. Those services are just an “API away” from our products information and maybe we can enhance their integration into PIMs.
The process of comparing a PIM to a good old farm helped me understand the PIM industry and the PIM business. By tilting a bit our perspective to something more material and conventional, we are able to induce novel ideas.
I am sure there are other techniques and processes that exist today in the world we can find inspiration in to improve the usage of PIMs and enhance the product information growth.
In this document’s title, I also wanted to show why and how a PIM is not a simple container you pour product information in. It is something way more capable, way more precise and promising:
A PIM is not an empty glass it is a digital catalyst.