What is Product (or Master) Data Management?

Product Data Management

I had just inherited a new department into my organization, the Product Data Management (PDM) team.

Shortly thereafter I started getting calls from the CEO. We were missing customer deliveries due to problems in getting the correct, and complete data, into the systems which enabled us to manage bills of material and manufacture products.

While Product Data Management seemed to have been a rather basic function I quickly learned that their role and responsibilities were not understood, were undervalued, and yet were absolutely pivotal and essential to the ability of the entire company to operate.

This was one of many lessons I learned about this critical part of any organization.

What then exactly is Product, or Master, Data Management?

Depending on the organization I have heard this function called either Product Data Management (PDM) or Master Data Management (MDM).

Product Data Management (PDM)

The Product Data Management organization in my organization performed all tasks relative to setting up parts/SKUs, subassemblies, bills of materials, vendor data and customer data in our databases.

This included part numbers, specifications, standards, parameters, drawings, customer supplied data, vendor supplied data, engineering changes, and more. Data was provided in most every conceivable format with a lack of standards, all of which had to be sorted out by the PDM team.

With hundreds of thousands of parts, tens of thousands of bills of materials, thousands of products, hundreds of customers, and innumerable engineering changes the task that the PDM team was incredible. More importantly their work ethic, professionalism, and attitude was nothing short of heroic.

Wikipedia defines Product Data Management as “the use of software or other tools to track and control data related to a particular product. The data tracked usually involves the technical specifications of the product, specifications for manufacture and development, and the types of materials that will be required to produce goods.

Within PDM the focus is on managing and tracking the creation, change and archive of all information related to a product.”

From this definition it becomes clear that without PDM systematically performing these functions it would not be possible for a company to produce and products or materials at all.

I do not believe that all companies use only one system or one standard for PDM, although that is certainly the objective for efficiently managing this function and this data.

Master Data Management (MDM)

Another organization I joined called their team Master Data Management, or MDM.

As they explained to me what they did it sounded entirely similar to what I knew of Product Data Management.

They would take all data, specifications, and information related to products and components and record it in a centralized database. Any and all changes were managed by this central team.

Every other function of the organization was reliant on the accuracy, timeliness, and completeness of this data as they all extracted what they needed from this central database.

Marketing, Finance, Category Management, Supply Chain, Vendor Management and more all required this data to perform their daily jobs and were completely reliant on the Master Data Management team.

Wikipedia defines Master Data Management as “a method used to define and manage the critical data of an organization to provide, with data integration, a single point of reference. The data that is mastered may include reference data- the set of permissible values, and the analytical data that supports decision making.

Master data management has the objective of providing processes for collecting, aggregating, matching, consolidating, quality-assuring, persisting and distributing such data throughout an organization to ensure a common understanding, consistency, accuracy and control in the ongoing maintenance and application use of this information.”

Product Data Management vs. Master Data Management

In my experience the functions performed by a Product Data Management team in one company were synonymous with those performed by a Master Data Management team in another company.

The data was different. The industries were different. The systems were different. And the processes were different.

But the fundamental task and responsibility was identical.

These teams were the central organization responsible to collect, assimilate, manage, control, track, and report on all data required to run the organization. The data was held centrally and was the single source of the truth. Anyone needing this information would get it from this singular, reliable organization.

Challenges and Recognition

Despite Product, or Master, Data Management being absolutely essential to the operation of any company this area of the business does not often get the respect and recognition that it deserves.

On the crudest level some people view PDM/MDM as merely the group that does all of the data entry. And while data entry, whether manual or automated, is a part of their activity, how many organizations have, or have had, completely trouble free data.

Data, data formatting, data completeness and data transfer are often great opportunities for problems. PDM/MDM professionals must be able to plan, problem solve, work with disparate functions and third party organizations. They must be able to interpret data and situations, anticipate problems, and make rapid decisions to quickly resolve issues.

They must be able to define, design and manage business processes, systems, and databases.

They do all of this with little to no fanfare.

Product/Master Data Management does not have the same level of visibility or support as areas such as Marketing or Sales.

But without this function, and the tremendous people who work therein, a company can not operate at all.

And with growing interest in technologies, such as Big Data and Digital Asset Management, it will become increasingly obvious to more people that you must treat your Product/Master Data Management team with dignity and respect.

Originally published on April 30, 2019.

One thought on “What is Product (or Master) Data Management?”

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