PIM (Product Information Management) and MDM (Master Data Management) are both data management systems, but they serve different purposes and focus on different types of data.

PIM is specifically designed to manage product-related data such as descriptions, specifications, images, and other marketing materials. It streamlines the process of collecting, storing, and distributing product data across multiple sales channels, ensuring consistency and accuracy. PIM is most commonly used by retailers, manufacturers, and e-commerce businesses.

MDM, on the other hand, is a broader data management approach that deals with the organization's master data, which may include not only product data but also customer data, supplier data, and more. MDM aims to create a single, accurate, and consistent source of truth for all critical data within an organization. It involves data governance, quality management, and synchronization across various systems.

In summary, PIM focuses exclusively on product information, while MDM encompasses a wider range of data types and is more focused on overall data governance and consistency.

I talk through the differences and benefits of each in more detail in this video.

Video Transcription

PIMs or Product Information Management systems really focus around product data while Master Data Management systems really focus on multiple domains which encompass more often than not product information management. 

So, when do you need a PIM versus an MDM?

It really comes down to the specific requirements and goals of the organization and what you see the future of your data in general. And, and how is your organization growing.

The need for a PIM

The need for a PIM arises when they realize that they have complex product portfolios or they have multiple sales channels and they're seeing these inconsistencies or data quality issues across them. 

When you have complex product data, and by that I mean you have large number of products or you have highly technical products with lots of specifications or properties, that's typically a big flag that says, "Hey, I need a system that's capable of managing this type of data" because the first question that comes up for most organizations when they're starting to manage product data like this is, "Well, where does this data go?" Does it go in my ERP? Does it go in my order management system? Does it go in my eCommerce system? Where does this data go?

And it gets more complex when you start getting into multiple sales channels. And sales channels would be, I'm selling stuff online in my eCommerce store or I have a physical store or marketplaces or if I'm sending data to a third party data pool like GDSN or something like that. 

When you have those multiple sales channels and you need consistent data across those channels, that is typically a flag for “I need a PIM.” 

Other major reasons to get a PIM specifically are if you're having frequent product updates, like for instance, you have seasonal campaigns. I think of most retail organizations who do things like back to school or Black Friday or things like that, stuff that you need to plan in advance and be able to aggregate those together. 

Or if you do any type of promotions, PIMs are big on being able to create those types of projects and really bringing teams together to kind of solve collaboration problems that you see across different lines of business or different departments. 

PIMs really do come into play, especially around global organizations or conglomerates of brands who have different currencies, different content that needs to be created for different regions, not just in different languages, but you've got different types of compliance requirements or just even your own brands. I think of large organizations that have multiple brands being able to solve governance issues and collaboration issues and and fix inefficient processes really come from starting with a PIM, right? 

So when you have complex product data like that, that is typically gonna be when you need a PIM. 

And there's a lot of tools out there that do that, a lot of tools off the shelf that can help you get started up and running quickly with onboarding your product data and getting it out to various channels. And they do product data very well and they do digital assets very well as well where you can start collecting your images of your product, your lifestyle shots, things like that for product information management. 

The need for Master Data Management

When it comes to Master Data Management, when do I need that versus a PIM? 

That all sounds great, right? And Master Data Management is just, I would say, kind of a build on that. It's much more robust or comprehensive, if you will, where most Master Data Management tools can do everything that I just said a PIM can do, but can do that with multiple domains of data.

And by that I mean you're now not just doing this with product data, 'cause we already recognize that I have a complex product portfolio and I've got multiple sales channels, but now most organizations who've gone through this, they've introduced like an eCommerce and they've got kind of like a baby picture of a PIM, and then they get a PIM, and then they start realizing that they still have data inconsistency issues or governance issues or compliance problems because now you've got multiple sources of data and you need to be able to tie that together with different domains, like being able to tie the data you sell with versus the data you buy with, right?

Like, I need to step into maybe my vendor domain, or I want to tie my product data to sales channel data like my customers, right? So the moment you start stepping into multiple domains or multiple domains of data, that's when you need an MDM.

And it's a growth process. I would say Master Data Management really solves everything that a PIM does. It's a lot of change because you're bringing in a lot of robust governance validation requirements, workflows, collaboration tools, integrations.

It affects the entire organization. So, when you pause and you look at your company or you look at the organization that you're a part of and you say, 

  • Okay, is my problem really just product data?
  • Do I have problems getting my data together, getting it consistent?
  • Are there a lot of manual steps?
  • Is it going to a lot of different places?

Then yeah, maybe a PIM will get you there. 

But, if you want to take a step further,

  • Do I have consistent data going to all of my customers?
  • Do I even have consistent customer data?
  • Are my ERP, my CRM, my BI tools, are they all in alignment?
  • Is the data that I'm looking at in this reporting tool, can I trust it?
  • Where did it come from?
  • Which one is more accurate?

Creating a 360-view of all of that really comes down to having an MDM. 

So really deciding which tool do you need, it's really about how far along your organization is. 

And that comes down to the specific requirements and goals. 

If you are at a place right now where you're starting to introduce multiple channels, like you're wanting to start sending data to a different marketplace or create microsites, or you want to start stepping into GDSN, data pools, things like that, yeah, PIM definitely for sure. Tons of 'em off the market or off the shelf that are available on the market that you can get up and running in four to six weeks. 

But, if you need to step into much larger problems where, let's say, you're a company that is built off of growth and scaling through acquisition, Master Data Management tools, definite need. Definite need for sure, because it's not gonna be just product data that you've gotta deal with. 

You've gotta combine your vendors, you've gotta combine your customers. You need to at the end of the day make sure that what you're buying is what you're stocking and is what you're selling, that what you buy is what shows up to the door for you and what you sell shows up to the door for the customer. And that's really where an MDM kind of steps in and takes over. And so that's a much bigger implementation to chew on, but it is definitely more comprehensive in that need.

So again, it comes down to what your specific requirements and goals are.

About the Author

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Adam Arbour

Principal Consultant, Data Practice

Adam brings over 12 years of experience in helping organizations solve their data challenges. Working with manufacturers, distributors, and CPG, has is a key consultant to the C-suite to drive digital transformation roadmaps. He's designed and implemented multiple software platforms supporting Master Data, Governance, Data Quality, and BI/Analytics engagements. He brings a depth of expertise and experience at driving business outcomes and simplifying complex technical engagements.

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