Product Information Management

With Variant Management towards Efficient Product Management

Matthias Gärtner
7 Min
Illustration mit Frau vor Monitor mit drei unterschiedlich gefärbten Pullovern |


Why is Variant Management of Importance?

The ever-increasing diversity of product variants poses a two-pronged challenge to companies. On the one hand, companies can fulfill the customer’s wish with customized products, while, on the other hand, the resulting diversity of products comes with difficulties for production. A continuously growing variety of variants is becoming more and more of a competitive advantage because it allows you to satisfy the customer’s demand for individualized products. However, this also increases complexity and costs in production in turn. Batch-sized production doesn’t allow for reducing costs because you suffer from so-called scale effects as a consequence. In order to get a firm grip on the complexity of variant management and all processes involved, companies should make use of two things: a methodological approach when selecting the variants you want to produce as well as suitable technologies that can support you in doing so.


What is Variant Management?

In order to define what variant management means we should, before anything else, clarify what a variant even is.

Variants (as in product variants) are specific articles which differentiate your general product on the basis of defined properties. Let’s illustrate this with the help of an example:

  • The product is a t-shirt which is available in four colors and three varying sizes.
  • In this case, the product variants are the individual combinations, e.g. a blue t-shirt of the size M. In total, the product has twelve such variants.

Illustration mit Browserfenster in dem mehrere Varianten eines T-Shirts in verschiedenen Farben und Größen zu sehen sind |

Variant management, accordingly, is all about the efficient selection, creation, maintenance, and handling of variants. It is integral to the fields of production, marketing, and sales.


How does Variant Management Work?

Concerning effective variant management, the first question is: Which products do even need variants to begin with? The answer may depend on the demand voiced by you customers and the actual implementation. For example, is it economically profitable to respond to individual customer wishes? Once these questions are out of the way, you can start with putting theory into practice and realize processes for variant management.

For the efficient management of product variants, consequently, it’s decisive to determine how complex the products which need to be managed are. To this end, you can divide variants into three different groups:

First Group (e.g., t-shirts): There are only a few variants for the product and they are made up of only a few properties without a particularly complex set of rules. In the case of t-shirts, for example, this simple rule set may define that there are three sizes, each of which can be combined with one of four colors.

Variant Management: The variants can be easily created and maintained in a PIM system. Since a simple rule set is in place which defines the exact number of variants, it would be comfortable if you would only have to define the rule set itself in the system rather than set up every single variant individually.

Second Group: While there may only be few properties out of which the variants are formed, each comes with a large range of values — resulting in a corresponding number of variants per product (circa > 100). Examples for this second group are customized products such as, say, planks from the building supplies store, given that they’re manufactured to match every required length and width. If an oak wood plank with a length ranging between one to five meters can be cut to shape centimeter by centimeter, then you’re looking at a total of 401 variants. Consequently, if the plank has a width ranging from one to two meters which can be potentially cut to shape at every ten centimeters, there would be a total of 4.411 variants.

Variant Management: In this case, we have a lot of variants. Here, it’s imperative not to create every single variant in the system but rather only the simple rule work which underlies all variants. This rule work can then be provided, for example, to your web shop. Customers then choose from the pre-defined properties and enter required values — in response to which they receive their relevant variant. The system dynamically generates an article with an article number and forwards the purchase to the Enterprise Resource Planning system. If the article numbers are continuous, the article can be clearly identified across all systems.

Third Group: There are variants for a product, but these variants are created on the basis of a complex set of rules. That is to say, contrary to the first group, you can’t simply form variants out of permutations (i.e., all possible combinations of defining properties). For example: blue pants might not be available in the size L, while red pants are available neither in the size S nor M, etc. Such rule sets can contain a lot of complexity, as you know it from the automotive industry. More often than not, a lot of product variants are required here.

Illustration mit Browserfenster in dem mehrere Varianten einer Hose in verschiedenen Farben und Größen zu sehen sind |

Variant Management: The creation of variants of the third group is most efficiently realized in the form of a special product configurator. Such configurations can be self-developed or you can rely on a standard software. The configurator is based on a complex rule set. This requires a lot of effort and an in-depth understanding of the product. Usually, the configurator also comes with visual or 3D support. On the customer’s end, the configurator — which may be operated either by the customers themselves or trained sales personnel — is used to configure the variant. It is often times the case that the configurator directly creates an article number for the specific configuration which is later referenced by the ERP system.


How can a PIM System Support You in Your Efficient Variant Management?

Besides efficient and comfortable product and article data management, a PIM system can help you in making sure that the variant management for the first and second group discussed above won’t cost too much effort. In the case of both groups, as already mentioned, it’s usually not required to manage every single variant but only the set of rules for creating variants. So, whenever a third-party system connected to the PIM via an interface in real time such as, for example, a shop system or an ERP system requires the information of some variants of the first group, the interface simply applies this set of rules and transfers all data. To this end, it’s best practice to automatically generate a suitable and unique article number. Make sure that all selection fields which serve the purpose of individualizing the general product into the specific variant are clearly defined.

Following the previous example for the management revolving around such a rule set for the first group: When creating the product in your PIM system, you set up the selection fields for possible colors and possible sizes.

In the case of variants of the third group, you can at the very least transfer the text-based product data and images from your PIM to the product configurator used by the customer.

Looking Forward to an Exchange?

You’d be happy about receiving support in your variant management and you’re looking for suitable software for you company? Then how about making contact with us so that our experts can show you first-hand how you can utilize a PIM system to successfully manage your full range of variants.

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