A Step Guide to Initiating a PIM Project

A Step Guide to Initiating a PIM Project

As Forrester and Gartner recognised Ecommerce platforms become the default cornerstone for online retail, many retailers are looking at other solutions to drive customer engagement, loyalty, retention and ultimately revenues.

Savvy retailers are increasingly looking to utilise Product Information Management (PIM) or Product Content Management (PCM) systems to provide compelling product content across all digital touchpoints, taking the fight back to amazon.

But how do retailers successfully embark on the implementation of a PIM solution that will be fundamental component to their digital strategy?

As is true for all projects, starting from a strong basis is critical. Therefore, the consultancy team at Tacit came up with the following practical step guide to initiating a PIM project summarising our experience of multiple enterprise PIM implementations.

Step 1: Start a Pre-discovery readiness Project

Map ‘As Is’ Product lifecycle: typically no one person in an organisation will understand or know the end to end product lifecycle. A short pre-discovery Business Analysis project is a great place to start, some of the key activities of this project are listed below:

Key activities:

  • Map existing Product Lifecycle Process: from the birth of a SKU to ‘live’ to decommissioned across all channels
  • Select a single person to champion / own product model
  • Review merchandising activity i.e. category level promotions, product recommendations
  • Map PIM data exchange with key suppliers/partners/customers
  • Documentation sourcing existing schema definitions, blueprints, solution architecture diagrams
  • Think about ‘Future state’ understand what channels you operate in, where you sell most of your products and where the biggest areas of opportunity are i.e. (Mobile).

Systems / IT preparation: prior to implementing a PIM the existing product/data model is typically dispersed around multiple systems within the organisation and de-normalised.

Key Activities:

  • Define your current PIM systems architecture (dB’s, spreadsheets, tools)
  • Understand / document current product workflow across different systems
  • Interfaces — how do systems communicate, (protocols, tools, frequency, times)
  • Caches — how many layers of caching do you have been existing PIM & UI layer / Target channels
  • Data Migration who is / should be responsible for cleansing data, and data migration
  • Map your high-level requirements (the discovery themes section below provides a high-level guide)
  • Non-functional requirements: catalogue loads, delta updates, suppliers

Step 2: Select a software vendor and partner

You now know the following:

  • Current product lifecycle process
  • High level future operating vision
  • Current system limitations
  • High-level system requirements
  • Business requirements (who and how tooling will be used)
  • Critical Interfaces
  • Product data model complexities

Thus, you are prepared with a wealth of information to begin the vendor selection process, qualifying suitable products vendors and PIM software implementation partners.

The Vendor selection process:

  • Conduct Initial market sounding
  • Ensure a down selection takes place 2 vendors
  • Ask for sector relevant partners and speak to at least 2 referees
  • Proof of concept: execute a Proof of Concept with at least 1 vendor and partner to get a feel for the product and implementation approach prior to full sign-off.

Lesson learned:

  • Initiate a readiness effort/project prior to or in parallel with vendor selection
  • Product Owner / Sponsor: Identify these people early and ensure they are engaged.
  • Business Users: understand the capability spread of your user base, are you users: data-driven, visual merchandising driven or do you have both needs?
  • Contact critical suppliers/customers and understand their requirements & limitations.
  • Execute a proof of concept with at least one software vendor & partner with a subset of your data to get a feel for the product & partner approach.

Step 3: Discovery — requirements capture

In terms of approach to discovery and the subsequent implementation phase, at Tacit we favour an agile approach. Fundamental to our approach is the Feature Map. This is a tool utilised to shape, visualise and group the components of the pending solution. We break down the implementation into small manageable functional themes, each containing granular requirements or user stories. The feature map can be used for multiple purposes and drives the priority of workshops, scope, and even helps monitor project progress.

The Feature Map

The diagram below highlights at high-level how a feature map can be utilised for a PIM project.

The above feature map shows some of the key high-level themes that could be used to drive a PIM project.

Discovery Themes

  • 1. PIM Data / Media: several workshops will be required within data/media, these sessions should be centred upon the product data, catalogue requirements/ hierarchy, categorisation, static attributes, marketing attributes amongst other items.
  • 2. PIM Operations: concerns the day to day utilisation of tooling, workflow, processes and includes ensuring the implementation partner understands the current: product strategy, business model and potential changes to the aforementioned.
  • 3. Pricing: PIM vs ERP, where you should master pricing is most likely to be dependent on the complexity, maturity of your business or products. Typically, a traditional approach would see the ERP mastering pricing, however, some retail organisations with highly configurable products/product ambitions may want to be able to offer price variations. Therefore, retaining pricing in the PIM is an option in this instance, you should ensure your PIM can support this.
  • 4. PIM APIs’: the integration approach is certainly worthy of a workshop with the plethora of methods data transfer protocols available, this session should include the IT technical architecture stakeholder organisation.
  • 5. Data Migration: should be covered to ensure the data transfer to the new PIM system is defined, version controlled, accessible and well distributed amongst key technical team members.

Lessons learned

  • Ensure you have a Product owner, an individual who understands the businesses needs, and has the authority to make decisions and is happy to consult other SMEs across the business
  • Avoid redesigning your as-is system within a new PIM software product, remember the 7 most expensive words in business “that’s the way we’ve always done it”; challenge your user requirements “why do things x way, what benefits does x approach have”
  • Customisation can be expensive in the short and long term (upgrade path). Discovery should be approached from a “how can we leverage OOTB first and customise by exception” perspective if cost control and architectural integrity are important in your organisation
  • Small focused sessions with the right stakeholders, over and above town hall committee meetings, will ensure your sessions will be impactful.
  • Set a clear agenda for all workshops, a session leader, and a scribe
  • Schedule thinking time between workshops for consolidating notes and identifying any gaps, and clarifications needed

Summary

It is critical to understand the end to end product lifecycle, product data complexity and catalogue size prior to engaging in PIM vendor selection. A poor product model can inhibit your trade flexibility: UI/UX layer adaptability, merchandising, in site search, and general site performance. Finally, a thorough Discovery process broken down into manageable components will provide a solid foundation for PIM project delivery success.

About Tacit Knowledge

Tacit Knowledge develops, integrates, and supports enterprise software for household name brands and retailers. Together with our parent, Pitney Bowes, we offer solutions across all consumer touchpoints, from device to doorstep. We connect the entire ecosystem of our customers’ digital commerce business. We build and support the Ecommerce website and associated technologies through to providing fulfillment (Pick & Pack, Kitting) through to Delivery, Returns, and Post-purchase customer engagement tools.
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