Business processes are increasingly being conducted electronically, a situation which applies to internal processes as well as to the interfaces with external partners. Product data is currently defined predominantly on a system-specific or organisation-specific basis, usually without the general exchangeability of the data being taken into account. On the originator side, this results in costly multiple definition and data storage for different addressees or customers and, on the recipient side, in repeated data editing and system integration of data from different sources combined with inherent, costly interpretation and conversion errors. Hence, there is a massive opportunity here for rationalisation.
From the market side, pressure is increasingly being exerted to supply product data in electronic form and as this pressure grows, it will have a considerable impact on all businesses. For these reasons, a seamless exchange of product data, i.e. an exchange that is free from media discontinuities requires a unified, joint approach both for exchanging internal product data within a company and for exchanging product data with suppliers and customers.
Information about a product is generated over the entire life cycle of the product, from the idea, planning and design stages, through the manufacture, marketing, service and use stages, to product disposal. Information is required in the course of many process steps, both during product manufacture and sales and during product utilisation (e.g. for maintenance and service) and recycling. Therefore, a harmonised, consistent process for preparing and disseminating relevant information about a product (across all organisation and information systems) is of critical importance, as illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1 — Example of product life cycle and information transfer
This calls for the use of a methodology that allows product descriptions to be produced in a standardised, computer-sensible form that is acceptable over a wide range of industrial systems. Such a methodology is provided by ISO 8000, ISO 22745 and ISO 13584. This methodology should be proactively promoted both internally in a company and externally between the business partners so that it becomes standard practice, thereby increasing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of electronic business processes.
A company should respond to these external and internal requirements and ensure that electronic product data is supplied in a coordinated and inexpensive manner. This includes the provision of uniform data (i.e. product properties) for catalogues, electronic marketplaces, computer-aided design/computer-aided systems (CAD/CAx systems), product data management (PDM) systems, etc. To this end, rules for harmonisation have been laid down. A common internal database is required to ensure the cost-effective utilisation and distribution of this product data, both internally in a company and externally between the business partners. A good place to start is to publish your corporate dictionary.