Grainger chooses Stibo product information management over Pindar, SAP

Industrial supply behemoth Grainger Inc. says change management is one of the more difficult challenges associated with PIM projects.

A solid focus on some highly specific business processes led $8 billion industrial supplier Grainger Inc. to choose Stibo Systems Inc. product information management (PIM) software over competing products from SAP AG, Pindar Systems Inc. and others.

Grainger -- a global business-to-business supplier of everything from mops and buckets to break room supplies, desk lamps and bevy of other facilities maintenance and operation items -- said the decision to choose Stibo over the competition also came down to the software vendor's ability to help Grainger overcome workflow and change-management challenges.

"We looked at all of the industry-leading content management, PIM and [master data management (MDM)] solutions," said Gene Rados, Grainger's director of product information. "Our challenge was finding [the] right partner that would continue with us down the growth path that we were pursuing with our product line expansion."

PIM software helps organizations centralize the management of any information related to catalog items and business services. A branch of the MDM discipline, PIM aims to knock down departmental or geographical silos and improve customer service by ensuring business representatives have access to the most current, accurate and consistent information about company products.

Rados -- who along with his team evaluated Pindar, as well as PIM software that SAP acquired in its takeover of A2i Inc. -- said both vendors offer strong platforms, but they simply weren't the right fit for Grainger's workflow, business process management and change management needs.

"A good example is our environmental health and safety area. Any product that comes in that is potentially hazardous [has] to be reviewed and approved," Rados said. "Stibo helped us build that appropriate workflow."

Product line expansion prompts need for PIM

Grainger, which boasts about 711 branches and 25 distribution outlets across the globe, started to think seriously about centrally managing product information during 2008 and 2009 when the company began experiencing a growth surge both in sales and in the sheer number of products it offers.

"We're involved with mobile [technology] and e-commerce and we have a 4,000-page catalog," Rados explained. "We had some false starts with regard to managing our information, but we knew that we needed to have some type of central information center to manage the information that is flowing into our catalog and into our different [sales] channels."

Pay attention to business processes and change management

The Stibo implementation took place in 2009, over roughly six months, and was relatively painless, largely because Grainger took the time beforehand to closely review many of its business processes.

"What you don't want to do is implement a system without reviewing and looking at your processes to see if they're working appropriately," Rados said. "We literally spent a year going through all of our processes to see how it would work, how it would flow and to start the change-management process with our business partners."

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One of the business processes that that Grainger reviewed centered on how the company goes about adding new products to its catalog. The company's product line expansion included the addition of new lines of safety products, fasteners and much more, and it highlighted the need to make sure Grainger's business units and suppliers were all on the same page in terms of product information.

The item addition process "had to be reviewed and looked at to make sure it was bulletproof," Rados said. "We [engaged] the suppliers, engaged the appropriate product teams, and engaged the appropriate downstream areas that review and approve the information before it goes live."

At the same time, the company was preparing its many sales agents, distribution centers and suppliers for the changes to come.

"The change management aspect was really built around how roles and responsibilities change when you re-architect processes," Rados explained. "That needs to be looked at because it's really important that people understand their role and when you change things like that you can't do it on short-term [notice]. You have to keep building on those changes and reinforcing the change. You need a long-term plan in order to make it really hold together."

Expanded MDM planned for the future

Grainger plans to build on the momentum achieved thus far by gradually increasing the scope of its MDM program to include customer, suppliers and other entities. The company will also continue to expand its product line and global reach.

"We have plans to add thousands of items annually," Rados explained, "but we're also expanding our reach across borders."

Looking back on the progress of the PIM initiative thus far, Rados said he's confident the decision to centrally manage product information was a good one. 

"If you're going to be a multi-channel business, you have to protect your information asset and you have to manage it accordingly," he said. "A central platform is what is needed in order to manage the information and the information flow so our customers benefit from an experience that meets their needs."

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