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Stibo Systems has been providing product information management (PIM) software for decades. Its work has helped many organizations worldwide take control of their product information by developing a master definition that can be published acrossmany channels from Web to digital to print. We recognized its work with customers Delta Faucet and Masco Corp. in our 2015 Ventana Research Leadership Award in Information Management. In 2014 Stibo Systems customer Brady Corp. won a similar award for Information Optimization. I have made it clear that in our view, when it comes to use all kinds of product content and data in business processes, product information management trumps master data management. Delivering value to business with PIM is much different than managing data infrastructure with MDM. There has been much angst in varying industry analyst views on this market segment. We analyze and rate vendors more rigorously than analyst firms that look at them only through an IT lens. Our methodology and framework put business first and IT second, and that shapes how we score vendors in PIM, MDM and other aspects of the software industry.
I recently wrote about the state of product information management, outlining the market and the vendors that play in it. This analysis followed our 2015 Product Information Management Value Index, based on six months of research assessing vendors and products. In the end Stibo Systems ranked first overall as a Hot Vendor. For more details, read the executive summary at no charge on our site.
Stibo Systems’ main product is STEP Trailblazer, which helps companies access, transform, manage and publish the range of product information. Our formal analysis in the Value Index, earlier this year, assessed version 7.2, and since then Stibo has released two upgrades, 7.3 and 7.4. In them Stibo addresses one of our criticisms by initiating more frequent releases and communicating better about them. In today’s fast-changing world, it is necessary to keep the market and customers up-to-date on the status of products. My analysis of STEP Trailblazer 7.3 shows an improved user experience in all aspects of the product, from administration to consumption, and improved productivity through management of tasks and advanced search. There also is better governance through workflow, rules and approvals accompanied by an audit trail. Addressing some challenges in adaptability that we identified, it has improved its APIs and integration points at user, application and data levels. In addition it has started to advance system performance and scalability in the reliability category through in-memory processing and multithreading. In the most recent 7.4 release, it further advances in-memory processing and improves security, the product information designer and internationalization and localization support. There also is enhanced support for the GDSN standard and for deeper levels of product hierarchies and attributes. It provides both more robust support of data preparation and processing to support access and integration to other channels. This advances PIM’s mission to reduce the time spent on information management tasks; our information optimization benchmark research finds that preparing data for analysis is the task that consumes most time for almost half (47%) of organizations. These two incremental releases demonstrate Stibo’s dedication to continuing to improve its products.
In my opinion, however, Stibo has blurred its message by shifting to address a broader “multidomain” master data management market. The company is diverting resources to focus more on data infrastructure than on pressing needs to manage PIM across business processes and applications including e-commerce and the supply chain, along with adapting information to other business applications. This partly explains why it had slightly lower ratings in the manageability and adaptability categories of our Value Index. Competing against major data management providers such as IBM, Informatica, Oracle and SAP is not easy, and Stibo should be careful not to lose its business focus on PIM. The company has yet to address the popularity of cloud computing by making its software available as a service in a private or public cloud; this is sure to be important in the near future. At the same time it is important to provide product information on any platform including the Web and mobile devices. I also would like to see Stibo advance its analytics and reporting capabilities to make it even easier to assess the use of product information within its product.
The business case for PIM is multifaceted, from reduced errors to increased efficiency in the business, but just as important is its impact on the customer experience; accuracy and consistency of product information lead to improved sales and customer satisfaction. Our most recent research on PIM shows that more than half (57%) of organizations are planning to make changes in how they manage product information. However, any successful effort to transform product information will require commitment and resources. For organizations that are serious about product information management as a key business processes to interconnect applications and systems across the enterprise, we recommend examining the products from Stibo Systems. This company has a long heritage and commitment to it, and its global operations make it suitable for organizations anywhere in the world.
CEO & Chief Research Officer
Ventana Research defines product information management (PIM) as the practice of using information, applications and other technology to effectively support product-related processes across the customer, commerce and supply chain. As organizations increase the number and diversity of products and services they offer to customers and partners, they increasingly need to address limitations in the ways they manage and distribute product information, including related attributes and content that describes the products. At the same time, competitive pressures require them to be able to incorporate large amounts of new content – video and images, for example – quickly while ensuring that the information presented to customers is accurate, operational processes run uninterrupted and timely data is available for business analysis. In an environment in which consumers, suppliers and partners use multiple channels to get to product information – including websites, kiosks, smartphones and tablets – it is essential that the organization always be able to present complete and up-to-date product information to inspire interest and facilitate purchases.
Product information management and the applications and technology that enable it are designed to help businesses provide the best possible product information to their departments and partners. To accomplish this, PIM software must support multiple business roles, from product managers and marketers to operations and manufacturing teams and to suppliers and those in the supply chain. Manufacturers, for example, need to share product information with distributors and with direct retailers or digital commerce providers on the Internet. For finance and operations departments, effective use of product information increases the efficiency of business processes and reduces the risk of using improper information that could reduce profitability and degrade the customer experience.
Effectively managed information about products is also essential to support a range of decision-making about products and services. Analytics applied to product information can yield a variety of metrics; they can indicate where product information is missing, where it needs to be improved, patterns of product usage and the meaning of feedback about them. In the preparation of product information, analytics can help profile and improve the quality of data and associated attributes to reveal where action must be taken.
Product information management is not the same as master data management (MDM), although the two sometimes are confused. This misunderstanding can distract businesses from focusing on what they need in a PIM application. MDM technology can ensure a single definition of data across the enterprise and improve the quality and integration of data across information systems. Many PIM systems have built-in MDM and now data integration and data quality processes to ensure there is only one defined master record for any given product.
It is important to realize that product information encompasses more than just the defined name and attributes of a product in a database; it includes all related information needed for reference or compliance purposes. Organizations should take care to understand the differences between PIM and MDM as well as how they can complement each other to inform decisions. PIM is essential to enable business units to manage their product-related processes themselves just as IT staff need MDM and integration tools to enable them to manage data throughout the enterprise.
ERP and supply chain applications including product life-cycle management (PLM) have fallen short in meeting the requirements for PIM, leaving many organizations with a lack of consistency in mastering and publishing product information both inside the enterprise and across the supply and demand chain. Commerce software also has lacked depth in providing PIM, a core ingredient for transacting business in products and services. Many commerce providers talk about the importance of focusing on the customer experience, for which effective PIM is a necessity. Web content management software also has a role, but its design is focused on dynamically generating content from a database and personalizing it for business. The lack of maturity in these software categories creates a role for PIM software that can interoperate across business processes and applications.
The goal of PIM is to establish a reliable single source of product information that can be shared across channels. Getting it right is not easy; our benchmark research shows that more than one-quarter of organizations have more than 10 sources of product information that they must integrate and manage efficiently. Half of participants in our research acknowledged that standardizing product information requires substantial effort, and only 27 percent said they completely trust their product information.
In their efforts to produce a reliable product record, most organizations use laborious, time-consuming methods: 37 percent develop custom code, and 45 percent rely on manual effort. One-third of all participants still depend heavily on spreadsheets to create their product records, and almost half (46%) depend on them somewhat. And nearly all (94%) spreadsheet users find major or minor errors in their records.
Processes and tools are available that can automate much of this work. If properly deployed, PIM systems can synchronize all attributes and definitions used in the identification, description, sales and fulfillment of products across all channels that customers, suppliers, trading partners and employees use. Some businesses are implementing PIM that has master data management embedded within it while others connect PIM to their IT organization’s MDM, which can help improve the consistency and quality of data across the enterprise. PIM and MDM projects typically incorporate tools for data discovery, profiling and quality verification to deepen understanding of the data, including relationships and associations among items. This knowledge can be essential for integrating content and data from multiple sources and defining master data.
MDM software by itself and without a PIM context is just for the data infrastructure; this in recent years has slowed its adoption as what is commonly called big data complicates data transformation and creates challenges in adapting to business applications. MDM vendors that continue to insist that their products address PIM often find the decline of interest challenging their market relevance. In contrast, independent vendors focused on PIM have enjoyed a growing market presence in recent years. But just focusing on PIM has its own challenges as organizations look for simpler and more interconnected systems that utilize cloud computing and software as a service; many of these vendors have not moved rapidly enough to support these changes.
The benefits of using dedicated PIM technology can be significant. More than 40 percent of organizations said it can help eliminate data errors, improve cross-sell and up-sell opportunities and improve the customer experience through consistent product information. Yet our research indicates that most organizations have not adopted more capable systems: Only 27 percent use commercial software dedicated to PIM, although more than half (57%) said they will change their PIM system within 12 to 18 months. The latter finding in particular underscores the importance of having a reliable guide such as our 2015 Value Index for PIM which can help companies assess and evaluate vendors and products in this software category. I summarize our analysis in another analyst perspective to illuminate further how it can assist your efforts.
CEO & Chief Research Officer