What a Difference Unified Data Management Could’ve Made: Some Takeaways

In my over 13 years of experience working in manufacturing and in distribution, I was a Subject Matter Expert (SME) of the product, a Lean Sigma Black Belt and an expert user of the business systems. I loved running the business with data, be it for higher order fulfillment, better forecasting, inventory optimization or continuous process improvement. At one point in my manufacturing career, I was knee-deep in quite a few business systems: ERP, PLM, PCM, Product Design & Analysis Solutions, BI and Data Analytics. Now that I am sitting on the other side of the table providing software solutions rather than simply using them, I am able to see how a unified MDM platform along with a Smart PIM would have made a world of difference for me.

Why PLM or PCM Wasn’t Good Enough to Maintain Product Data Consistency

Backstory

I was on a project where I won the best Lean Sigma award for moving from an asset-based nomenclature to a part number-based approach. The business that I worked in was a slow-moving, multiple-product family with low variety, high-value assets and long manufacturing cycles with a short take time. Business and finance leaders had a hard time getting insight into inventory, sales trends and forecasting under the asset number-based approach. To enable a part number-based approach, I went through an exercise reviewing the historical sales of various assets and their configurations. Based on interviews with internal business owners, SMEs, engineers and customers, I created a list of attributes that were required to enable various asset configurations for sales.

Limitations in the PLM

Based on this input, I created part numbers for each SKU with attributes in the PLM system. There were limitations in the PLM system. The attribution structure was predefined to the entire company. Imagine, in this global organization of myriad product lines, product families, products, semi-finished-goods, finished-goods, raw materials, and vendor supplied parts, a certain predefined product hierarchy and product attribution meant that you basically killed the variations that exist in different business units. Since I could only define certain attributes in the PLM system and only in a certain way, I had to look at ways of achieving it in the Product Catalog Management (PCM) System. The PCM system was homegrown and pretty flexible. I was an expert business user of the PCM in my prior role, so I became the de facto admin to the PCM on this project.

What was Missing?

Detailed knowledge of how to use the PCM system accelerated the delivery of my part numbering project. I created a business unit within the PCM, product family hierarchy, products, and attribution. Certain attributes would flow from PLM to the PCM. However, customers needed a lot more attribution, which I had to create in the PCM. There was a lot of redundant work and I had to ensure the quality of data as well. 

What if the IT landscape had a Smart PIM at the hub, syndicating data with the PLM and PCM? Wouldn’t my job have been easier, wouldn’t the process have been a lot faster? Imagine what that would have meant for my company and the various departments.

Say No to Excel

In another role, I led a manufacturing group. This business offered a variety of product families, each holding many products. They were fast-moving, low priced and had short manufacturing cycles. We did our best to limit manufacturing of custom products but custom products did happen based on requests from certain customers. Product engineers love to pay attention to the details of the product specs and at times they overdo them, leading to cost increases. The manufacturing spec of a product is defined in an engineering drawing and housed within an engineering system such as Pro-E, SolidWorks etc. Upon receipt of a product or a semi-finished good from our vendor, the quality control group would verify the product against the quality standards. Most of the times, they used an Excel spreadsheet to key in the measurements or used a homegrown system. In either case, the QC inspector keyed information from the drawing into the spreadsheet or system. Over time you develop a trend through tedious processes.

What if I had used a Smart PIM that could pull in the specifications as attributes from the engineering design system, syndicate the values into the quality control system and drive insights from the quality control system?

Imagine a Future-ready MDM with a Smart PIM on Top of It

Imagine the engineer now has data with in-place analytics to guide him on specifications that matter. Imagine the reduction of time in manufacturing and cost savings as result. What if the Smart PIM were sitting on top of a future-ready MDM? I would be able to collect insights into product quality and map it back to the vendors, thereby influencing their performance and scoring. In the world I lived in, each of these was a different system – engineering drawing system, quality control system, supplier performance management system. A Smart PIM couldn’t replace all of this. However, it could ensure redundancies are eliminated, data consistency is maintained and result in cost savings through operational excellence. With a future-ready MDM as a platform, the quality control system and the supplier performance management system could now reside on top of it in the form of apps.

You Don’t Recognize Revenue Until You Ship it

Don’t Compromise Order Fulfillment

Once the products are manufactured as per the quality standards, you’ve got to ship them. There are multiple stages of shipping, but I’ll focus only on one of them: shipping from the manufacturing center to the distribution center.

As the business leader of a manufacturing business unit, your main financial goal is to deliver quality products on time. You get creative in your shipping terms and revenue recognition terms. You always aim to recognize revenue when the product leaves the manufacturing center. You try your best to ship all products against an order to the distribution center. However, under the pressure of recognizing more revenue, you ship as much as you can – especially at the end of the month. Many know that a big pain point in this process is packing the product. The shipping department doesn’t use anything more than a spreadsheet to track the flow of the finished good (products). They are approximately prepared to pack the flow of the products. More than often, they might run short of packing materials. The packing dimensions for each product is maintained in some spreadsheet or document within the PLM and the shipping department keeps a hard copy for their reference.

What if the shipping department used a Smart PIM? The manufacturing engineer would define the packing dimensions for each product family or product. Shipping departments would have real-time access to this information.

If the manufacturing engineer were to change or create the packing dimensions of the product, the shipping department would be updated without the need for a hard copy or a spreadsheet. They would be better prepared and as a business leader, you would have one less thing to worry about for your revenue recognition.

Bringing it All Together

I have described various roles that I have played in different business types in the world of manufacturing. Each point solution I used was applicable for only a limited set of use cases. If I were to have used a Smart PIM, the product information supply chain from PLM, PCM, QC System, Supplier Performance Management System and Shipping System would have been seamless. This would have resulted in increased efficiency, more on-time deliveries and better revenue recognition. Beyond these business systems, a Smart PIM can syndicate consistent data to the Order Management System and legacy ERPs, ensuring a higher rate of production and higher fulfillment rate.

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

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