Updated with new information 3/27/23
Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and Product Information Management (PIM) software are critically important tools for companies in the B2B retail industry. Whether you’re designing new products or managing product information, your choice in software can be pivotal for your company’s success. As you look to PLM and PIM software to streamline and optimize your processes, it is essential to know the differences between the two.
Let’s clear up one key distinction right off the bat here: both Product Lifecycle Management and Product Information Management software are important solutions. Rather than focusing on which one is “better” or prescribing which software type you need, this article will focus on comparing and contrasting PLM and PIM features, seeing where their values intersect (if at all), and clearly defining who may benefit from each type of software. Based on these insights, we can recommend what might fit your needs.
As the differences between Product Lifecycle Management and Product Information Management tools are often misunderstood, it’s important to clearly define the two while discussing their functionality and benefits. Here’s a quick guide of what this article will cover:
- What is Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Software?
- What is Product Information Management (PIM) Software?
- The Benefits of PLM Software
- The Main Reason to Use PIM Software
- PLM vs PIM - Final Insights and Recommendations
What is Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Software?
Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is a process by which an organization brings products to life. This considers everything from concept to development of the product. PLM software serves as a centralized platform for development teams to collaborate with accurate historical data that exists for a product’s entire lifecycle.
Over a series of cycles, product development teams leverage data entered into their PLM system to improve product quality. Now, this isn’t to say that a PLM system facilitates the actual design of a product per se. Design takes place in Adobe or other programs that are intended for creating visuals. But once digital sketches and technical drawings are completed, how can product development teammates leverage those design documents to collaborate on improvements or next stages of development?
Without Product Lifecycle Management software, teams are left to share these files via email or use generic communication software to collaborate. This lacks context and organization, leaving teams at risk of losing data or communications in long chains of emails or generic chats. PLM solves this by unifying product data from the earliest stages of a product's conception all the way to the final product’s distribution.
Over each stage within the product lifecycle process, development teams use historical data to find ways to source better materials or make design tweaks that not only cut down production costs, but also improve time to market. Using a PLM system to establish a design iteration process that leverages a feedback loop of key stakeholders is the best way for an organization to strike the perfect balance of time, cost, and quality.
Beyond visual data like designs and tech packs, a Product Lifecycle Management system stores an array of data relevant to a product’s journey from concept to market. Here’s a quick reference list for the types of data stored in a PLM platform:
- Product Development
As Product Lifecycle Management starts right from a product’s conception, PLM software is naturally the origin point for a product’s overall data. Once that product is fully developed and complete, the data is stored in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. From there, if a company plans to sell via e-commerce sales channels, a PIM solution is the next step for distributing accurate data to those channels.
What is Product Information Management (PIM) Software?
Product Information Management (PIM) software, also sometimes called Product Content Management (PCM) software, serves as a centralized repository for all product distribution. PIM software was born out of the need for brands to distribute correctly-formatted product info to their e-commerce retail channels. With the e-commerce boom over the last two decades, brands are in constant need of more solutions that can standardize their most current and accurate product information.
Having PIM software to store, organize, and disseminate accurate product data removes the risk of having inconsistent information. This facilitates the distribution of better product information to sales channels as well as more accurate internal data for cross-team transparency. In turn, companies that use PIM software experience improved efficiency across their entire value chain – including both internal teams and external stakeholders.
Product information management software works in tandem with other enterprise resources to assimilate all key product data. For example, it may receive product data in the form of specifications and other core information from an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system along with visual assets like photography, videos, and digital images from a digital asset management (DAM) system.
PIM software also gives marketing teams the opportunity to upload enriched product copy, optimized for their relevant keywords and audiences before distribution to their e-commerce partners. This all combines to create a comprehensive database for each product with the most relevant and recent product information available.
Product Information Management software stores a wide variety of data that helps different portions of an organization in different ways. Here’s a list of the most important types of data stored in a PIM:
- Marketing Data
- Visual Assets
- Customer Data
- Design Specifications
- Financial Data
For a more exhaustive list of the data stored in a PIM, check out our Product Information Management Guide blog.
The Benefits of PLM Software
On the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) side of things, we need to clearly define the benefits of the software to justify why it’s worth centralizing data in this manner. For all the collaboration tools that exist to unite internal teams, nothing truly creates an immersive environment for those teams to collaborate on the same product.
Think of Slack or other chat tools. These are great for engaging internal team members for real-time, ad hoc communications. But if you were discussing product development or sharing notes about designs, those critical pieces of information quickly become buried as time passes. The issues only get worse when development teams lean on emailing attachments – which is truly the lowest common denominator when it comes to communicating and collaborating on products.
This is where Unified Product Lifecycle Management tools enters the picture. Specifically designed to address the issues with data silos and lack of contextual collaboration, PLM tools drive growth through optimizing each stage of a product's lifecycle. These stages include, the 4 main phases of PLM:
At each of these stages, context and clarity with clearly defined workflows for everyone involved are important elements of a healthy PLM process. Surefront’s unified PLM and PIM platform is a great example of a fully immersive environment that allows teams to collaborate on design and development initiatives with visuals and data all in a single place.
Taking context up a notch, Surefront’s patented built-in chat communications are tied to each page on which they occur. For example, that means if you have created a tech pack of your product using Surefront and want to get notes from your teammates, you can see a historical log of all communications right on that page within the platform. This inherently eliminates data silos as all relevant data and communications for the product at hand are stored in a single, easy-to-access place.
As a unified PLM, PIM, and CRM solution, Surefront goes several steps beyond traditional Product Lifecycle Management software. Most PLM’s allow you to engage in product development collaboration as detailed above with internal teams only. Surefront, on the other hand, allows you to do this as well as engage your external partners. At any stage of the product lifecycle journey, you can invite your external partners to view showcases of your products.
Where other software may help with the “one to many” showcasing of a product, Surefront facilitates the “many to many” showcasing of all your products. You can send tailored showcases with robust visuals of multiple products to several of your buyers and invite them in to negotiate sales or further product customizations, which brings you closer to finalizing purchase orders. This makes Surefront a full Unified Product Collaboration Platform that combines all product data and stakeholders on a single immersive platform. This is a fantastic tool for fostering and managing supplier relations.
Surefront helps you bring products to market faster, more efficiently, and allows you to drive down costs while driving up product quality over a series of product lifecycles. These are key ROI results that you should look for with any tool that includes Product Lifecycle Management functionality.
The Main Reason to Use PIM Software
Back on the Product Information Management (PIM) side of the fence, let’s talk about why some companies are migrating toward this type of software. Of course, storing and managing the most current product data are important housekeeping tasks for any company. But are we really talking about a giant digital filing cabinet as the next big enterprise software solution? Certainly not.
Brands who sell their products through e-commerce sales channels are using modern PIM systems for their product syndication and distribution capabilities. Product syndication refers to the process by which a brand broadcasts their products, with enriched product information, to their e-commerce sales channels. As PIM software’s core functions store the most up-to-date and enriched product information, it makes for the best centralized distribution point for product syndication. Surefront now offers product syndication, so you can list products customized to the specifications of hundreds of different online marketplaces in a single click.
This process is also known as Product Content Management (PCM). PCM solutions within a PIM platform ensure that your channel-specific content needs are met with predefined formatting so that each data point is uniform and accurate to each sales channel’s standards. For example, this guarantees that if you’re listing a new furniture item to Walmart, Wayfair, and Home Depot’s e-commerce sites, your information will be automatically formatted to each of those retailers' specific requirements. This article explores product syndication and PCM in more detail.
Modern PIM providers specialize in this process of automatically formatting and syndicating brands’ product listings to their e-commerce retail channels. This helps brands in cutting down the time required to do manual formatting and manual upload of each one of their products to each one of their sales channels. What would take brands full days (or even weeks) to format and upload thousands of lines of product specifications and data to their e-commerce channels can now be done in an instant with real-time, automatic syndication tools. This is a critical part of the merchandising management flow for both e-commerce brands and retailers.
With few exceptions, nearly every single modern Product Information Management software provider either currently offers automatic product formatting and syndication, or they are quickly adopting this as their main value proposition. eCommerce sales are booming in 2023, with 20.8% of retail purchases expected to take place online in this year. This number will jump to 24%, or nearly a quarter of all purchases, by 2026. As eCommerce sales become more prevalent in the retail industry with each passing year, the need for faster, more agile syndication tools will only grow.
PLM vs PIM - Final Insights and Recommendations
After looking closely at both Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software and Product Information Management (PIM) software, it’s clear that both solutions are vital for companies’ success in omnichannel commerce. When choosing between the two, you simply have to look at your business model and decide which makes the most sense. Most likely, your conclusion will be that you need both.
If you are a brand that does substantial business selling through e-commerce retail platforms, then a PIM solution that provides Product Content Management (PCM) is almost certainly a must have. Ask yourself these questions:
- What percentage of my sales are via e-commerce?
- Will that share of business grow in coming years?
- How much time do we spend uploading products to e-commerce channels?
If the answer is a significant portion of your sales to question #1 with the propensity to grow in question #2, you should look into a PIM solution. If your answer to #3 is a significant portion of your team’s weekly work, you might think of a PIM as the solution you need to reallocate your team’s time for other growth initiatives. We recommend that you find a unified PIM solution that can meet your syndication needs, as you look to scale your e-commerce business.
If you are a brand that develops products and engages with internal and external stakeholders for those development initiatives, a PLM software solution will most certainly meet your needs. Ask yourself these questions:
- How is my development team collaborating on products?
- How do we engage buyers for product customization?
- How can I increase productivity in my development pipeline?
If the answers to #1 and #2 are emails with attachments or other disparate chat platforms, you are lacking the context and cohesion that a PLM could provide. If you have no fresh ideas for #3, you likely need to leverage Product Lifecycle Management software to drive down cost, speed up your time to market, and improve your product quality. It's rare that a company only requires PIM or PLM functionality as a standalone.
You don’t want your data to be siloed. Your company’s CRM, PIM and PLM solutions shouldn’t operate in a vacuum, either. Surefront is a Unified Product Collaboration Platform to power growth and ROI. Our patented PIM, CRM, and PLM solutions streamline the omni channel sales, merchandising and product development processes. By combining these essential functionalities, Surefront creates a single source of truth throughout your product lifecycle, sales and listing processes.
The results? Up to 150% more revenue per employee and a 40% shorter product development cycle is just the beginning. Try our 10x ROI calculator to see your company’s potential profits. Or, skip the noise and book a custom demo with one of our unified product collaboration management experts today. The retail industry evolves quickly and has a lot of moving parts. We do all of the research, so you don’t have to. Stay ahead of market fluctuations, trends and new features by subscribing to our Unified Product Collaboration Management Blog.
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