Product Information Management 

Escape from Spreadsheet Hell

Time to make the jump to a PIM solution

Mon, 06/20/2016 - 11:12am | Insights
Matt Thesing

Don't get me wrong, spreadsheets are great. They are wonderful for organizing, analyzing and presenting data. With some clever use of sorting, filtering and pivot tables you can make magic happen. But, as with many things, it's possible to have too much of a good thing.

It usually starts off simple. Someone tires of managing data with paper forms or they realize their product data only exists in a printed catalog. They get the great idea to store information in a spreadsheet. It's easy to manage, they can manipulate the data and life is good. Then someone else finds out about the magical spreadsheet and wants to get access to the information. So the owner of the spreadsheet emails it to them. They start adding their data to their copy of the spreadsheet and they are happy as well. This may repeat itself for multiple people across various departments in the company. Everyone likes their spreadsheets... until the original owner has updates. Even if they (the owner of the "original" copy) knows everyone that is using a modified copy of their original spreadsheet, there isn't a good way to merge the new data with their spreadsheets because they've been modified and contain additional data owned by other groups. The slow decent to spreadsheet hell has begun.

In the beginning, this may not be a big deal if the amount of data isn't too big. It's a manual process, but beats the old system of paper and/or emails. But what usually happens is that the volume of data grows to the point where people are spending as much time manually consolidating data from the individual spreadsheets as they are doing their "real" work. The ease and convenience of the spreadsheet is history. Spreadsheets are good for single person to analyze, manipulate and displaying data, but they are horrible as a source of record for data that needs to be accessed by multiple users. The fact that it is a file that only one user can "own" at a time means it is a blocking mechanism for multi-user access. Is it getting hot in here?

At this point a couple of things can happen. You might put business rules in place to control access to the spreadsheet to ensure that there is only one master copy and one user updating it at a time. This is great for data integrity, but blocks others from doing their work because they have to wait on others to completely finish their work before releasing the file to the next user. So people wait and wait and wait, dragging out your time to market. Wait, do you smell something burning?

Alternatively, you might break the master spreadsheet up into many smaller spreadsheets so that many people can work on their sections as needed. This is going backwards. You've just taken the advantage of a spreadsheet (having the ability to manipulate all the data at once) and thrown it out the window. You might as well be using sticky notes and placing them on each other's monitors when you are finished. Yup, you're in Spreadsheet Hell.

The better solution is to invest in a Product Information Management (PIM) system. Like your master spreadsheet, it provides the ability to store your Product Information in a single location with a flexible, easy to use interface. Unlike your spreadsheet, however, the PIM will allow multiple users to access their part of the data at the same time. People can be reading and/or entering data for different products (or even different fields on the same product) without interfering with each other. The PIM is your system of record but because it isn't file based it doesn't block multiple people accessing the data at the same time. And the great thing is that you can export your data to a spreadsheet whenever you feel the need to manipulate and analyze the data in all the ways that spreadsheets Excel (pun intended).

Another benefit of a PIM is that you can leverage your data in many more ways than spreadsheets allow. You can import data from your ERP and PLM systems. You can publish appropriate data to your CMS and eCommerce systems and can even import data into your catalog templates in InDesign. A good PIM system has an open architecture supported by a full API that allows you to extend functionality to many other systems and possibilities.

This is only one of many good reasons to implement a PIM. There are numerous other benefits to a well designed and configured PIM system.

If you have any questions about PIM or how you might escape your own spreadsheet hell, please feel free to contact us at: