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Why industrial manufacturers should invest in product data management

The rapid speed of innovation in technological development has been driving exponential growth of a new kind of manufacturing. Industry 4.0. has enabled greater automation of tasks and processes as well as interconnectivity between people, machines and products. Many manufacturers have only just started out on their journey towards use of these ‘smart’ technologies. For the large majority of manufacturers using distributors or retailers to feed their products to the customer, the rapid shift to digital has served to highlight the shortcomings of their current technology stacks.

Customers use product data as significant drivers in their decision-making processes. As such, data is now an asset rather than simply a by-product to be managed as and when. A manufacturing product data management system used to its full potential can transform the value chain and be a decisive factor in; 

  • Making operations leaner and more efficient.
  • Improving manufacturing process management.
  • Enhancing logistics operations.
  • Increasing opportunities for scalability.
  • Optimising revenue.

Manufacturing product data management is a key component of industrial manufacturing, given the symbiotic relationship between manufacturers and their trading partners (distributors and retailers). A common reason for the suboptimal performance of many manufacturers in the industrial products sector is a lack of connectivity with these partners. This has a knock-on effect throughout the value chain to the end customer.

Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 – ‘the fourth industrial revolution’ – has its philosophical foundations in the web-based connectivity and communication of and between literally everything. It is a future where myriad devices and ‘things’ (products, energy sources, robots and so on) are interconnected, with AI-driven, cloud-connected capabilities which allow them to communicate, make smart decisions and unleash greater efficiency, value and revenue. 

Industry 4.0 combines conventional manufacturing processes with enhanced technologies to address (and solve) inefficiencies in the manual and mechanical paradigm. For example, the application of 3-D printing to component manufacturing has meant massive savings in terms of tailoring both the specific item and the flexibility of production run volumes needed to fit with fluctuating demand. Integration with ERP and master data management systems means that order processing, stock level analysis and custom-produce-to-order can now be performed much faster. The manufacturing landscape is being reshaped to enhance the collaborative dimension of the relationships between producers, suppliers and customers. The challenge for industrial manufacturers is how to deploy these transformative digital strategies.


Early adopters of i4.0 have already forged ahead and are using AI, Internet of Things (IoT), digital twinning and predictive analytics to drive innovation, growth and profits. To ensure success, CIOs need to use new technologies hand-in-hand with future-ready strategies to manage change and capitalise on opportunities. For industrial manufacturers, product data management is a key area for enhancement, especially given the range of services available for managing, sharing and deploying the volume of data available to enhance the value chain and deliver excellent customer experience. 

How does product data management impact directly on Industrial manufacturing performance?

Product data is being generated at every stage in the value chain. Technology and associated software systems support the management of a range of data types, from  engineering data and process information during product development to stock control data and product attribute information. This ever-expanding data requires organisation, structure and storage so that it can be tracked and deployed from sourcing raw materials to feeding it to sales channels.

This accumulated product data is used to inform the actions of stakeholders throughout the product life cycle. For industrial manufacturers, this data is gathered from suppliers and fed on to distributors alongside the finished products. When leveraged for i4.0, the product data input has a major impact on efficiency, quality, costs and resource deployment. The current 4th revolution in industry relies heavily on the effective management of product data, as the building blocks underpinning;   

  • Real-time integrated supply (and demand) chain management, with all trading partners integrated.
  • End to end track and trace capacity for products, using smart labels and digital signatures.
  • Production planning with a feedback loop from customers leading to end-to-end efficiency in use of assets.
  • Digital quality assurance frameworks, with digital twinning (1) creating an environment for easy product testing and adaptation. (2)

The CEO’s perspective

The strategic implications of this emerging paradigm shift means that CEOs are faced with decisions around becoming data driven manufacturers. That is, adoption of cloud-based technologies (and the costs involved) and how to implement a strategic and focused product data management system to deploy and exploit accrued data to best effect. 

Cloud Adoption

Cloud-based data management has a differing economic profile to conventional server-based technology usage. Exploiting the full power of cloud technology demands significant investment in developing and implementing capabilities and migration applications. It is, however, much more efficient in the long run, especially for those manufacturers who are operating with suboptimal legacy technology stacks whose characteristics tend towards a fragmented and siloed set of business practices.

Managing data

The widely held consensus across all types of manufacturing industries is that the future of data management is where organisations have the capabilities to thrive in an increasingly eCommerce-driven business environment;  “…cloud-based digital technologies drive agile operational capabilities in an integrated, well-sequenced approach that can rapidly accelerate digital strategy and transformation.” (3)

Four interrelated systems form the basis of digital manufacturing ecosystems of the future (4)

If companies are to be successful in a digital next normal, their leaders need to ensure that management teams understand the specific ways that cloud computing can generate growth in revenue, markets and margins, as well as how different areas of the business working in digital alignment will enhance efficiencies and both generate and capture value.

Product information is a key asset for all manufacturers and is now “...powering digital transformation by enabling real-time, learning-based decision-making across the entire product value chain, including product development, manufacturing, supply chain and customer experience.” (5) This is the journey to take in order to remain competitive: minimising risk, increasing efficiency, reducing costs and capitalising on digital opportunities.

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(1) The mapping of a physical asset to a digital platform, using data from sensors on the physical asset to analyse its efficiency, condition and real-time status.
(2) Defining the new DNA of industrial digital organisations: PWC, 2020
(3) our-insights/three-actions-ceos-can-take-to-get-value-from-cloud-computing
(4) PwC’s 2018 Global Digital Operations Study: Digital Champions