September 27, 2019 | Dean Rutter
blog image PIM, MDM, DAM…Oh My!

Are you new to the world of Product Information Management or PIM? Perhaps you’re simply researching options to replace your current PIM platform, “homegrown” PIM solution, or Excel-based product information approach.

If this sounds like what you’re up to, chances are, you Googled "PIM." What did you get? An onslaught of TLAs — Three-Letter Acronyms — that somehow seem related to PIM? So instead of resolving your PIM uncertainties, you’re overwhelmed with more information about other platforms and solutions that add to your confusion.

Been there. 

For those looking for a PIM solution, this blog is intended to help you understand where PIMs fit into the myriad of modern platforms and solutions being used by leading companies to better manage their product data and information. Below, you will find how a PIM compares and contrasts to more than a dozen seemingly related solutions.

PIM vs. MDM - Master Data Management

The goal of a Master Data Management (MDM) is to create an all-encompassing business data reference or “Golden Record” across “multiple domains.” MDM domains typically include customer, product, and location data but can also include other groups of data such as employee or asset data. Because MDMs are used to master all types of data, they are often referred to as "multidomain" platforms. Virtually all MDM solutions include a PIM. Many MDM vendors also market their PIM as a standalone offering.

Aside from a PIM being a component of an MDM, the main difference between the platforms boils down to MDMs having a potentially much larger scope and often being selected and managed by IT organizations who can spend years working on getting the MDM fully operational. PIMs, on the other hand, are generally selected and managed by the business organization (merchandising, eCommerce, and marketing groups) and can get up and running in three to six months depending on complexity (see: Anatomy of a PIM Implementation). Even though PIM is usually a subset of MDM capability, having a discrete PIM alongside an MDM often yields added benefits by offering best of breed capabilities (better PIM functions), faster time to market, and reduced vendor lock-in (reliance on a single vendor).

PIM vs. DAM - Digital Asset Management

A Digital Asset Management (DAM) solution is a system used to store and manage unstructured digital media files including images, graphics, videos, presentations, etc. DAM is sometimes used interchangeably and is very similar to Media Asset Management (MAM; confusing, right?). Though some digital files managed by a DAM may be product-related, DAM solutions generally manage ALL assets, including varied digital assets that have nothing or little to do with product information. That recruitment video that shows your boss attempting to sing? That would more likely be stored in the DAM versus a PIM.

Most, if not all, PIM systems provide the ability to work with images. Some PIM systems have more DAM-like capabilities (such as Akeneo PIM’s Product Asset Management (PAM) solution) and are used to facilitate the association of various media to products, but little else. If you are looking for a strong digital media management solution, then a DAM becomes important. DAMs are very complementary to PIMs. Using PIMs and DAMs together can empower your business users to develop the most compelling multimedia product experiences, which can supercharge your business objectives.

PIM vs. CRM - Customer Relationship Management

While the name likely gives it away, a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system handles prospect, marketing, sales, and customer information. This data may include information like customer profiles and sales history. To make this simple, consider that a CRM does for your customer data what a PIM does for your product data. CRMs are a fantastic resource for creating sales and marketing strategies, and other information. But that data clearly does not belong in a PIM. Generally, there’s minimal overlap between CRMs and PIMs. Many organizations eventually use both systems. Note also that a CRM platform could be part of an MDM solution.

PIM vs. ERP - Enterprise Resource Planning

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is typically a central repository for a ton of back-office and financial business data. ERPs often provide data to other platforms as part of an overall data infrastructure. Although it's common for ERPs to be the origin of foundational product information (i.e SKU, price, name, etc.), ERPs are not designed to be dedicated to product information and almost never serve as the sole source of product information.

An ERP’s job is to support multiple business needs (i.e. "Enterprise"); however, most ERPs do not support product data gathering, workflows, enrichment capabilities, or product data syndication capabilities to the degree that PIMs provide. When considering the role of ERP vs. PIM in your organization, its critical to think through how data flows through the system and which systems will be best suited to the application and maintenance of data governance, product enrichment, and syndication. There are no silver bullets here.

PIM vs. CMS - Content Management System

Companies use Content Management System (CMS) platforms to allow marketers to control their external-facing digital platforms and to connect content with their eCommerce platform. Common CMS tools you may know include WordPress, Drupal/Acquia, and Adobe Experience Manager. These systems typically support creating and managing digital building blocks (content) and managing content authorship workflows aimed at helping companies present their best possible “digital face” to the market.

Though many CMSs have ways to store, update, and manage product data (or any arbitrary data), they lack many of the essential product-oriented capabilities that come with PIMs. If a company uses a CMS to maintain their product data, they’ll likely not address their product information management issues. It’s pretty rare for us to find a situation where an organization uses a CMS to manage product data. It’s very difficult and expensive to try to manage product data within a CMS. You should think of CMS as a destination (Syndication channel) or consumer of your PIM. This way you can optimize your product experience, minimize your organizational overhead, and effectively decouple your product information from its presentation.

PIM vs. DMP - Data Management Platform

A Data Management Platform (DMP) collects, stores, and organizes data from a variety of first, second, and third-party data sources, and makes it available to other platforms (i.e ad exchanges) and data consumers to be used for many purposes (i.e. targeted advertising, personalization, content customization, and more). DMPs are the “pipes” of ad tech — connecting many platforms so marketers can use their powerful audience data when and where they want.

DMPs and PIMs overlap only in so far as DMPs will collect and use PIM data to achieve certain marketing objectives. If you imagine a PIM as a teacup, DMP is more of a retention pond (or maybe “data lake”). Only organizations of a certain size will even consider implementing a DMP and it usually makes sense to go down that road only after you have your PIM in place.

PIM vs. PLM - Product Lifecycle Management

As the name suggests, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is used to manage a product through its lifecycle. PLMs are generally found in a manufacturing context and are “owned” by the engineering or product development group. This means PLMs manage data and media from the original idea of the product to end-of-life product plans.

This type of system is typically used for internal idea management and generally does not manage the data required to create a compelling customer product data experience. You may see integrations between your PIM and PLM during specific milestones of the product life cycle (i.e. SKU creation and product discontinuation).

PIM vs. PDM - Product Data Management

Product Data Management (PDM) is key for the design, engineering, and manufacturing of products and is focused on optimizing product development. Simply but intricately put, a PDM manages product data and a PIM manages product information. Perhaps put a better way, PIMs manage the product data needed to support marketing and sales needs. PDMs and PIMs address different needs. Design, engineering, and manufacturing teams get the most out of a PDM while marketing teams and salespeople derive the most value from a PIM.

PIM vs. BOM - Bill of Materials Management

A Bill of Materials Management (BOM) solution can involve all enterprise data systems that deal with products. CAD, PDM, PLM, ERP, PIM, and other platforms touch BOM solutions. Generally, BOM is at the heart of a PLM solution. BOM handles the data that defines the products a company delivers to its customers and can also include hardware, software, manufacturing data, documentation, pricing, and more.

BOM platforms support engineering design, design collaboration, sourcing and procurement, and go-to-market strategy. Its responsibility can overlap with those you would otherwise see handled by an ERP system. In this type of scenario, your PIM would most often be a data source for your BOM and in certain architectures also a consumer of product data.

PIM vs. PCM - Product Content Management

Product Content Management (PCM) is a feature that is offered in almost all eCommerce solutions. An eCommerce platform’s PCM mainly offers some support for data enrichment. Data enrichment often is limited to adding or deleting product descriptions and similar capabilities. A PCM could be all that is needed if a business sells a few products with little to no variation.

However, if a business sells even just a few dozen products with even modest variations, a PCM will likely not work long-term as PCMs are not very good at storing the relational data needed to support large product catalogs and products with numerous variations. Ultimately, it may be best to look at PCM as a very rudimentary PIM capability that comes with almost every eCommerce platform. And while it’s not sophisticated or especially powerful, it's a place to start, and it can work in a pinch.

PIM vs. PXM - Product Experience Management

Product Experience Management (PXM) is a buzzword we have started seeing more often in the PIM conversation. PXM tends to mean different things to different people. At PXM’s core is a foundational PIM. PXMs go beyond the functionality associated with common PIM solutions by supporting one or more of the following capabilities:

  1. Product content analytics
  2. Personalization support
  3. Enhanced enrichment and contextualization
  4. Automation and optimization via machine learning or Artificial Intelligence

Be careful to avoid being roped in by these "buzzy" concepts. You should always be guided by your business goals and objectives when deciding what type of product information management platform you need.

PIM vs. PDX - Product Data Exchange

While not a platform, we thought it would be helpful to include a profile of Product Data Exchange (PDX) given that it is another solution that you may encounter while learning about PIMs. PDX is an inter-process supply chain data exchange communication protocol, generally reliant upon XML. Suppliers and manufacturers use PDXs to automate and make the exchange of product data more accurate and less costly and challenging. Most simply put, there is no logical relationship between a PIM and PDX. Although, in the PIM universe you may think of PDX as something like a syndication channel (or format). 

Hopefully, this posting helps demystify a bit of the Data Management/Data Architecture universe. Whenever a new team member joined our PIM team, the questions started. What about DAM? What about MDM? Based on this, we decided to develop a clearer understanding of what a PIM is and isn't.

While there is significant variation in how these tools/platforms are employed, the role of PIM stands out as the best place to create products, enrich product data, apply, and manage data governance, import, and syndicate product information across the data ecosystem. It shines as the single place to collect and cultivate your product information and disseminate it to your downstream channels. Sometimes knowing what something isn’t is just as important as understanding what it is.