What is PDM (Product Data Management)

What is product data management? Often shortened as PDM, this is the product management analog to the software concept known as version control. But, for all of those non-software people out there, that probably doesn’t mean a whole lot, or totally sounds like it means something it does not.

So, today, I’ll be explaining product data management, and why it’s important. It’s a really simple concept, but it’s something that does need to be discussed because it’s a very big part of product management and it’s an inherent phenomenon to the product lifecycle concept as well.

A Basic Definition:

Basically, this is the handling of all publication of information on a product, and the archiving and tracking of changes between publications as product formula, process, design or packaging changes. Now, that sounds like something that’s not so greatly important, but it really is.

Why This Matters:

Over time, a long-lived product will go through variations, even if they are not macroscopically visible. Changes in the makeup of the product can result in different types of issues being present when issues do arise. The same can be said for differences in replacement policies, coverage of warranties and any number of problem solving suggestions.

The trick is, products that aren’t perishable result in many variations of a product coexisting, even within a fairly short window of time.

With that in mind, consider the problems for a business who has no documentation of when changes were made, archives of information on the different incarnations of the product, and the problems or resolutions each one may call for. The customer service and support departments would not have a fun life at the very best.

Customer input about their experiences with the product will not be entirely measurable because it would be impossible to figure out which of the variations was being met with scorn, and which variations were being met with praise.

The Problem:

The problem with PDM is that there’s not much in the way of dedicated software for this, and there really should be. A lot of product lifecycle management suites offer internal PDM functionality, but sharing space with so much else, these features are often very limited and rigid.

This means that a lot of people are handling PDM the old fashioned hard way through databases, spreadsheets or other documents manually drafted and manually archived.

That’s all well and good, but it makes the lookup process all the harder to accomplish. Some CRM is taking up the slack a little by bringing in growing PDM functionality on the grounds that coordinating product versions with customer accounts or vendor accounts is a good and instant way to track who gets what.

Looking Ahead:

There are a couple nascent PDM programs out there, but the only one worth mention is Sofon. I think this is because people are just waiting for product lifecycle systems to actually grow their PDM functionality into a richer experience.

Myself, I think product data management is going to wind up being another of the many functions swallowed by the all-devouring CRM niche which is slowly but steadily taking over almost all business software needs. I don’t care who does it, but we need tools to encourage people to be more fastidious about this.


Mark is the Lead Author & Editor of Spectechular Blog. Mark established the Spectechular blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Product Management.