Many thanks to our Product Information Management Roundtable attendees whose wide range of expertise made for an engaging discussion. While centred on construction we also had thought leaders with backgrounds in digital and standards to complete a holistic view of lessons learnt and a vision for the future.
Phil Thompson, Procurement Data Manager of NG Bailey opened with a short presentation that clearly mapped out the current situation of the MEP industry. Central sources of data provided by commercial third parties have gone someway to standardising product data but as Phil pointed out a single source truth cannot be a competitive solution. And while a part number can be assigned at origination its identifier can change each time it moves through each link of a supply chain.
The BIM agenda has helped to standardise attributes and geometric data but is still missing a unique number for products. Unique IDs can be seen in retail, motor insurance and mobile payments to mention a few examples so why the difficulty in doing the same in the MEP and construction industries? Alex Small, BIM and Digital Platforms Manager at Tata Steel pointed out that thanks to GS1, merchants could use SKUs but at manufacturing level there needed to be unique instances which could run into billions of identifiers. For example in construction manufacturing whenever one product is joined to another or coated with a certain coloured protective layer a new identifier should be generated.
Standardisation in the way product data is generated by a manufacturer could establish a single source of truth and would help to unify product information throughout the supply chain. Alex Lubbock, founder of Amedo Limited raised the issue of collaboration throughout an industry that may be resistant to being pushed into change and would be more receptive to developing a community open to using the best tools and practices. Fareed Patel, co-founder of Hamari Agency gave an ecommerce perspective where the motivation for harmonising product data was being driven by the increasing number of digital channels where products needed to be. BIM is one digital channel but there are also multiple ecommerce and marketing channels including marketplaces like Amazon. Is it then possible that as the number of these digital channels increase the baked in ambiguity of product data becomes less of an advantage for some and more of an operational and competitive disadvantage?
This question leads to the proposition that if the cost of the implementation of an industry wide single source of truth for product data wasn’t an issue then would this problem be solved? We hope to address the reasons companies change product numbers as they pass through their organisations as seen in Phil’s presentation so that we can offer alternative good practices that can be adopted in-line with the principles of a golden thread. Gary Lynch, former CEO of GS1 sees parallels between retail and manufacturing when it comes to standardising product data. From the Horsegate scandal to allergies, issues kept arising to the point of where manufacturers and retailers sat down together with standards organisation GS1 and came up with a single way food products are described in the UK. Importantly this was a subset of global data from GS1 so harmonised globally.
The example of GS1 embedding NHS patient numbers into GS1 barcodes generating a globally unique means of identification while keeping the original NHS number shows that having a golden thread of product data during its entire lifecycle may be possible without changing naming conventions currently used by organisations within the construction supply chain. Though it’s unlikely there is a quick fix Gary’s recommendation of bringing together key stakeholders to have some success and work together to implement a solution on a specific pain point is something we plan to do in the near future. We would like to speak to anyone who could help us identify these steps for real change and look forward to our next discussion.
Thanks again to everyone who took part in this lively and enjoyable roundtable!
Fareed Patel, Co-founder, Hamari Agency
Phil Thomson, Procurement Data Manager, NG Bailey
Heena Vara, Partner Manager, BigCommerce
Alex Lubbock, Founder, Amedo Limited
Tom Oulton, Digital Transformation Lead, Operance
Alex Small, BIM and Digital Platforms Manager, Tata Steel
Richard Silk, Managing Director, Userism
Kevin Miller, Managing Director, Craig and Derricott
Jim Herbert, VP & General Manager, BigCommerce
Henry Stocks-Fryer, Head of Customer Success, Bidnamic
Gary Lynch, Former CEO, GS1
Chris Jobse, CEO, PIMvendors.com
Knut Jøssang, Product Manager Digital Solutions, Pipelife Norway
If you would like to see the roundtable please visit our YouTube channel. Any enquiries into future events like these or questions about product information management please reach out via our contact page.