How to create a centralized information system?
Centralized information system defined
Centralized information provision is the concept of storing specific (pieces of) product information in just one place or one single database. This way, data redundancy can be avoided and the path is clear for efficient product data management.
The concept of a centralized information system can be explained by the figure which is a visualization of the information system of a wholesaler. The core and starting point of all information provision is the ERP system. The ERP system contains so-called ‘Master Data’, which comprises of different information, for example the article numbers, prices and current stock availability of the products you are selling.
To centralize your product data, it is necessary to integrate your web store with your ERP system. This can be done by creating an ecommerce platform. Your ecommerce partner can use the Master Data in the ERP integrally in the web store. This content is usually of a fairly basic nature consisting of elements such as product number, name and price. Because of this, no “commercial” product descriptions and few or no product images are shown. However, with the use of for example a PIM system this data can be enriched. Multiple images per product can be displayed, including zoom capabilities to ensure your customer can see every detail.
It is also possible to show as many variant dimensions as you need, such as sizes, colors, styles and more; which can all be displayed in the variant selection using dropdowns or in a matrix view. This means that, each product field coming from the ERP can be shown as a product specification. Products can also be linked to each other in order to show accessories, spare parts or to show up- and cross sell opportunities. Moreover, the category hierarchies as defined in the ERP system are simply loaded in a centralized information system in a way that it is no longer necessary to recreate them.
ERP and PIM as complementary systems
Additionally, to enrich the content shown in the web store, a third party solution can be included in the information provision system. One of such content enrichers we mentioned earlier is a PIM system – or Product Information Management system. PIM refers to processes and technologies of which the prime focus is to centrally manage product information. Data required to market and sell through one or more distribution channels are especially relevant. A PIM system takes product data from the ERP system, and consequently enriches the data through categorization and unification of the product information. The neatly organized and uniform data is taken from the PIM system and displayed on the web page. As a result, a product landing page can display all-encompassing product information, including detailed drawings and downloads.
Both systems, ERP and PIM, are complementary and do not overlap each other as they have different purposes: the ERP system contains and shares Master Data, the PIM system creates categorized content which can be used for multiple distribution channels such as a catalogue or a web store. The purpose is to yield a world-class web store on which customers can find all the information they need. Together, they bundle all available and required product information and, as such, work as into one centralized system.
How does this work in practice? Imagine a wholesaler, who receives product data from many different suppliers – each offering the data in their own format. When this data enters the information system, it is gathered and molded into one unified content design, which entails that product attributes are mapped to the right fields and field formats. For example, when product data about bolts comes in from supplier A, and product data concerning screws arrives from supplier B, but one uses inches and the other centimeters, it will be unified into the same unit of length. Otherwise it would not even be possible to compare products, search for products based on a certain attribute, or even link matching screws and bolts together.
What is the best for your situation?
So is it necessary to integrate your web store with your ERP system? Yes – because an integrated web store will leverage the data from your ERP system in the most efficient way by storing product data in one central place instead of two separate locations. In other words: it is the only way in which your ERP product base becomes the product database of your web store as well.
Is it necessary to start working with PIM systems? No – you can load content from your ERP system into your web store perfectly well without the use of a PIM system. However, if you have a huge catalogue encompassing complex products, a PIM system can save you a lot of time in managing your product catalogue(s). A PIM system allows you to add workflow to your catalogue management and to assign specific roles and authorization levels in your catalog management team. It will also help you speed up the process of loading product data from external suppliers, classify product data, manage product relations and more. It also allows for distribution of this product information to different channels, such as a catalogue or a web store.
It is therefore advisable to use PIM systems in combination with your ERP system. This is in case you deploy a large and complex product catalog while combining data from many suppliers, from whom you receive regular updates.