A key component of your ERP, and thus technical side of your business, is the item master. Think of it as the key-chain that will let data link throughout your business systems. Each item in inventory has information – dims, weights, names, etc. – all of that information will be in the item master.
There are few digital elements that have as great an impact on external collections as an item master.
Depending on your organizational maturity, you may already have an item master naming convention defined. If not, here are eight things to consider when building your item master.
Eight Things to Consider When Building Your Item Master
There are constraints with how many characters can be read between different systems. For instance, your ERP may accommodate up to 18 characters, but your Warehouse Management System can only handle 15 and your Webstore 13. Taking stock of constraints within the interdependent systems before building your item master is critical. If you don’t understand limitations across the system, be ready for some real challenges in the future.
- YOU WILL NEED CONTROLS
You will need controls – both now and in the future. Assign a cohort of several people who understand the convention and process associated with building the item master. The obvious reason is to have backup resources should key staff fall ill or leave. The other reason is to have a change control board of sorts so that there are several pairs of eyeballs on new entries or changes to the item master. Once new entries or changes are complete, hold a final review with key functional staff to bless the changes before they go into production.
- WHO WILL ADMINISTER IT
Identify one point person owning the process from end to end. Typically handled by your ERP Administrator, but may vary based on your organizational structure. An oversight on the launch or upkeep of the item master will have catastrophic impacts across the organization. Having someone who owns the process and can shepherd the team through is critical. If an issue does come up, the Item Master Lead will quickly be able to resolve it.
- DON’T OVERTHINK THE PROCESS
It’s really easy to go haywire thinking of all the different permutations for a product based on size, color, category, weight, region and so on. The best rule of thumb is to keep the item number simple. If you are a company selling apparel, sporting equipment, and gardening supplies, you might consider all clothing SKUs to look something like “CLO23489”.
- CAPTURE ALL INFORMATION
The gift and the curse of today’s digital exhaust is the amount of information available – we love it for the insights it can give us, but it can also be paralyzing. Entering the data is often viewed as a whole other type of paralysis. This process is key to strategic insights and should not be taken lightly. Your reports are only as good as your data. The more options you have available will dictate reporting depth.Your ERP system and strategic direction will decide how many fields per item need recording. Be intentional about developing a good practice of entering all data points from launch of an item master initiative. Institutional regret will surface when a report or analysis can neither be run nor be useful due to the lack of information available.
- IMPACTS ACROSS SYSTEMS
Item naming, much like the numbering convention mentioned in #1, will also have impacts across systems. The item name created is passed across several different places: your WMS, webstore, a B2B or B2C page and elsewhere. While ‘AmbBot10oz’, for instance, may look good to your ERP Admin, when that shows up on a customer facing site, no one will be happy. Ensure that you understand where the item name will (or may) appear and bring in all cross-functional groups to decide on what a proper name is.
- CROSS FUNCTIONAL TEAMS
Your organizations goals and practices will vary. Here is an example list of teams to involve in item naming (and numbering) meetings: Finance and Admin, Supply Chain, Marketing, Wholesale, Regulatory, and Product.
- THIS IS PERMANENT
There isn’t any turning back. Rewriting an item master of 10,000 SKUs will result in the entire team pulling their hair out and the reverberations of frustration will be felt throughout the organization. Item master processes and formats are a ‘one and done’ events.
Take your time. Measure several times. Test different scenarios.
Be intentional about the process and you will be on your way to item master serenity.