The expansion of product data governance in a circular economy


October 9, 2023

In his latest blog, inriver CEO Niels Stenfeldt looks at how product data governance is making waves in the transition toward circularity.

The beginning of the product information management (PIM) industry was rooted in the need for organizations to operate with a single source of truth to govern all product data. This was a byproduct of the rise of e-commerce, and that PIM use case remains today. However, the need and value of product data governance have expanded far beyond this internal alignment exercise. 

To truly obtain product data governance, an organization’s data must answer to an expansive set of stakeholders and use cases including customers, governing bodies, suppliers, and retailers, as well as cover end-to-end production and sales processes. Let’s explore some real-world examples of how the expansion of product data governance is fueling the circular transition.


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End-to-end process coverage 

The initial “scope” of PIM and product data governance was a means to organize product information in internal systems. Businesses were focused on ensuring that their PIM solutions correctly reflected product attributes such as size, color, and material and that this information was displayed accurately on a product detail page. Data accuracy was effectively where the product data governance ended. This is changing. Product data governance starts much earlier in a product’s journey and in some ways never ends. 

Product data governance needs that brands are contemplating today span from the sourcing of raw materials through manufacturing and distribution, all the way to communicating this data to customers. It also encompasses how data persists throughout the post-sales life of a product. Consider a fashion and apparel brand that collaborates with global suppliers for material inputs such as cotton. For this fashion company, product data governance is key. Not only does it entail maintaining accurate product specs but also tracing the sustainability and ethical sourcing of materials to meet the growing consumer demand for transparency.  

In the automotive sector, the expansion of product data governance extends from initial design and engineering to manufacturing, distribution, and even post-sales service. This comprehensive approach ensures access to precise data about vehicle components, maintenance schedules, and recalls throughout a product’s lifecycle. 

Product data governance for regulatory and compliance requirements 

Regulatory compliance plays a significant role in product data governance, exemplified by Proposition 65 in California and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive in the European Union. 

California’s Proposition 65 is a law requiring businesses to provide warnings about significant exposure to chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. Companies selling products in California must maintain up-to-date records of chemicals used in their products and ensure that the required warnings are included on product labels and websites.

I have personally audited products that I know to be impacted by Proposition 65 by reviewing these products’ detail pages and descriptions across a variety of retailers in California. Whether intentionally or by error, I can always find instances where Proposition 65 data is missing on certain product detail pages. It’s highly likely that the product’s manufacturer has the required data stored in their PIM – but unless that data makes it to the digital shelf accurately, that product is in violation of the law. Inriver’s PIM solution has evolved to meet these new data governance demands to monitor data compliance with embedded Digital Shelf Analytics technology. (You can learn more about inriver’s Digital Shelf Analytics capabilities in this video overview.) 

Similarly, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive (EU) requires manufacturers of electronic devices in the EU to adhere to responsible disposal and recycling of electronic waste. Compliance entails accurate data about materials used in each product to facilitate recycling and environmentally responsible disposal. Notably, the directive’s impact extends beyond Europe, as seen in Apple’s commitment to introduce replaceable batteries in iPhones by 2027. 

Continuing the conversation  

These examples underscore that product data governance is multifaceted, involving not only internal processes but also the demands of external stakeholders, particularly regulatory compliance and customers. In inriver’s latest ebook, The circular product journey: powering a sustainable, data-driven future with the inriver PIM we detail robust data governance practices that can adapt to changing consumer preferences, global regulations, and the growing importance of sustainability and transparency in business. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on how product data governance can continue to impact a circular economy. 

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  • Niels Stenfeldt

    Former Chief Executive Officer & Board Member

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