Akene-Oh No: Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Using the Akeneo PIM

by Matt Helm
Thursday, November 12, 2020

Product Information Management (PIM) tools are making their way increasingly into the ecommerce market because of their utility in a company’s product data efforts. Whether maintaining, consolidating, or augmenting product data, a PIM is essential for doing such tasks at scale with managerial visibility. One such PIM is Akeneo which boasts a variety of offerings to accommodate the needs of any size ecommerce shop.

However, a PIM is just a tool. If not applied properly, a PIM can seem like just more extraneous software when it should be seen as an essential tool to help the data flow throughout an organization. As someone who has been implementing and developing with the Akeneo platform for the past three years, I have seen many roadblocks to Akeneo becoming a fully adopted platform in client organizations. Here are a few of those…

Not Keeping Akeneo Current with Minor Version Updates

There is a running gaffe among my development team that whenever you open a ticket with Akeneo support their response is usually something like, “Update to the latest version of Akeneo.” Though sometimes issues are more complex, updating Akeneo minor versions is very often the proper solution. No software is perfect and Akeneo is no exception. However, the Akeneo development team does a great job of catching and addressing bugs with frequent version updates. Performing a minor version update to Akeneo usually takes less than an hour and I have never experienced any major issue during the process. This includes performing minor updates on some highly customized Akeneo instances[1].

Trying to Use the PIM to Manage 'Hot' Data

Akeneo is not a one-stop, data management shop. The system is designed to hold 'cold' product data. Cold data is data that rarely changes such as a product’s name, materials, dimensions, etc. On the other hand, “hot” data is that which is updated more frequently, even daily or minute-by-minute. Examples include inventory and promotional pricing.

Knowing that Akeneo is not designed to handle minute-by-minute product data updates, an organization should seek an alternative system to manage hot data rather than a PIM.

Not Embracing a Secure Workflow Process

One of the core features of the Akeneo PIM that I do not see properly utilized is its ability to create workflows for your product data projects. A feature of Akeneo Enterprise Edition, workflows enable an admin user to control what data other users can view and/or edit. Employing workflows ensures that the correct person updates the correct product with the correct information.

For example, a Product Manager at an electronics distributor will complete a workflow by opening Akeneo and viewing/editing a pre-selected range of electronics for which he/she is directly responsible. From there, he/she edits only the attributes for which permission has been granted in the Akeneo workflow. This process cuts down time spent searching for the correct product records as well as prevents a user from editing data that may not be in his/her domain.

Not Taking the Time to Properly Define Attributes and Families

In software, the popular expectation is for things to always move quickly. Your customer wants their purchase delivered near instantly and you want your new Akeneo PIM to be up and running overnight. I wish that all aspects of product data management were likewise fast-moving (and easy). However, the reality is that while some things can and should move fast, others are “slow.” One example of “slow” is applying an organization’s knowledge of their own business and of their market to properly define product attributes and organize those attributes into a category structure[2]. Making room for 'slow' work in this case, is key to addressing the number one reason why PIM projects can struggle—organizing an enterprise’s product data.

A large amount of the work that goes into a PIM is data mapping and strategy. These critical steps need to be done before any data gets added to the PIM. It is easy to say Let’s just get the product data into the system and map it out later. As someone who has tried to make a 'deal with it later' type of implementation work, let me warn you that this approach is dangerous. Without a strongly defined foundation for your product catalog you will gain significantly less value from the other tools that Akeneo has to offer. By not spending time building the foundation of your catalog you are setting up your catalog to collapse in the future.

In summary, the reason you are probably looking to adopt a PIM in the first place is because you recognize that your data is not well organized. There are mountains of information, often incorrect or outdated, that you need to sift through and polish as an organization to compete online or move toward other organization goals. A PIM such as Akeneo will accelerate your ability to maintain product data given that you keep the software updated, avoid hot data, and setup workflows within the system to help team members accomplish their most important tasks.

[1] The Akeneo Serenity offering will automatically update your Akeneo instance whenever a minor version is released, but if you are self-hosting or using Akeneo Flexibility you should be scheduling time for regular Akeneo version upgrades.

[2] Most successful companies create two structures, one for their internal business operations and a separate one for their customers.

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