I’m here at the 2018 Stibo Connect Conference listening to an overview of some of their MDM capabilities, and it strikes me as just how far the needs of the market and the solutions addressing those needs have evolved as we’ve gone from PIM to MDM. So for old times’ sake, here we go down memory lane.

The genesis for PIM (of course this was before we called it PIM) revolved around challenges with print catalog production. Not all that long ago companies regularly produced print catalogs to inform the market on the products they carried. Some of these catalogs could be massive, well over 1,000 pages and containing information on thousands of products. Production of the catalogs was very manual and the time from concept to print could easily take 9-12 months or more, meaning the content was often out of date before the ink was even dry.

Two of the larger print companies at the time, Stibo and Pindar, saw that the biggest challenge was aggregating and managing the product data needed to feed the catalog. Both began offering software to manage the product data in a central location. Integrated with Quark or InDesign these software products significantly reduced the time to print and became the precursor to today’s modern PIM products.

Next came the e-procurement wave. Dominated by Ariba and CommerceOne, companies began to implement these systems to streamline their procurement of everyday products and services. The promise was increased speed, reduced effort, and reduced errors. The only catch was that to purchase a product it had to exist in the system. This put a burden on manufacturers and distributors, many of whom were busy producing and mailing print catalogs to provide their product data digitally, inclusive of any custom fields that customers had implemented and, in a form, the system of choice could consume. Often products that weren’t in the system were relegated to exception purchases, and nobody wanted to be an exception.

At about the same time, the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) was starting to gain some headway. Companies like Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, Safeway, Wegmans, and many others began to require their suppliers to send their product data to the GDSN in conformance with a continuously moving standard. This led to increased pressure on suppliers to participate by providing their product data in electronic form.

Between e-procurement and GDSN, the days of content syndication had arrived. PIM was recognized as a software category and most of today’s modern PIM products were born including Stibo, Agility Multichannel (formerly Pindar), Enterworks, Heiler (acquired by Informatica), Trigo (acquired by IBM), Riversand and many other point solutions.

In the past five years, eCommerce has been the primary driver for PIM. Beyond simple eProcurement, eCommerce was to be much more of a shopping experience for buyers. With eCommerce, they were searching for and evaluating products. In that environment, buyers do not have large signs at the head of aisles indicating where to find specific products. They can’t pick up the product, read the label, or compare it to another product on the shelf next to it. Their decision to buy or not-to-buy is governed solely by the data available. No data, no sale. Therefore as a seller, it was crucial to provide the product organization (taxonomy) that helped buyers navigate to the products they wanted, the product details (attributes) that help them evaluate the product, the visual experience (related images, videos, etc.) that helped them confirm the product they were looking at was the product for them. And as a supplier, the only opportunity to differentiate your product was in the quality of the data you provided the seller. eCommerce simply would not work without product data that is well organized, consistently presented, and of sufficient detail. With the online imperative came requirements that drove many of the advanced features we see today in PIM products.

So we’ve seen a market evolve from both a user and solution perspective very quickly. What began as a tool to manage limited data related to a product record in a print catalog has evolved to a solution for managing all product data and related assets for multiple applications to include print, GDSN, eCommerce and more. It is through the advances in PIM, which has improved our ability to manage data, that the value propositions of these different applications have been realized. We had mastered our product data with PIM.

Which brings us to today. The digital enterprise of today is a collection of data objects beyond products to include: brands, vendors, customers, locations and more. Often there are complex relationships between those objects that affect your business. There may even be unique data requirements that exist at the intersection of these objects, for example when selling this (product) in these (markets) use a different product description that complies with certain (standards) in that (market). I’m reminded of a discussion I had with the CEO of a large sporting goods distributor. We discussed the significance of data to today’s digital enterprise, and he summed it up very succinctly for me. He said that in a matter of a few short years how he viewed his business had changed entirely. He said they were once a very product-centric business, but that today they were a data business that happened to ship products out the back door. Regardless of your business model, data has become one of your most important strategic assets, and proactive management of that asset is imperative. I think we would all agree we are living and conducting business in a data-driven world. Thus the need for a comprehensive MDM strategy supported by a solid MDM product that more than likely has evolved from the early days of PIM to meet today’s needs where data is your business.