What is the difference between ETL and PIM (product information management)?


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The pandemic-hit world has seen multi-fold advancement in digitalization. Retailer brands and businesses across the globe have shifted strategies to the digital paradigm. Technology, tools, and processes that ensure data is accurate and consolidated throughout the enterprise have become vital in this digital decade. Intuitive, feature-rich, and effortless tools and platforms can give you complete control of your product attributes to overcome commerce anarchy.

One such tool is the product information management system, or PIM, that centralizes product data from diverse sources, simplifies content syndication, and enables you to communicate product information across an omnichannel landscape. The integration, import, and export of data in such a system need ETL processes that involve three unique yet interrelated tasks – extraction, transformation, and loading of data.

What do you need to know about ETL?

To think that creating a data warehouse or a relational database is just obtaining data from different sources and adding to its database is far from the truth. It requires a complex data integration process that synthesizes raw data from multiple structured and unstructured sources (documents, databases, emails, third-party applications, etc.), transforms (to improve data quality and formulate consistency), and loads that data into a target unified data repository like data warehouses, databases, data lakes, etc. This is commonly referred to as ETL.

ETL ensures that your organization has fast access to a large quantity of integrated and transformed data that helps you with informed decision-making. The ETL process is also capable of boosting data warehouse performance. It provides high speed and efficiency in extracting, transforming, and loading bulk data while assuring that data quality is maintained at the best standards. Thus, enabling greater accessibility, integration, and management of data for your business.

What is PIM?

While product information becomes exhaustive with business growth, the ability to deliver seamless, engaging and omnichannel customer experiences defines the success of your business. PIM is an excellent platform that structures, classifies, enriches, and above all, centralizes and harmonizes all your marketing, sales, and technical product information. It helps you deliver quality, accurate and consistent product information to your customers across channels with high precision in minimum time.

PIM is entirely powered by application programming interfaces (APIs) and can easily integrate with your existing IT setup. With a centralized PIM system in place, all product data are integrated and stored in a repository that you have the power to control, manage, modify and utilize across different channels. Organizations can benefit from faster time-to-market, increased sales conversion rates, and streamlined workflows that contribute to exceptional product experience and greater customer satisfaction.

Key differences between ETL and PIM

Even though ETL and PIM may seem quite similar in their primary attributes, there are fundamental differences between them:

Data category: PIM centralizes and structures all product-related data in one place. These include SKUs, product descriptions, images, and other features. The information is constantly updated for accuracy and differentiated into distinctive categories to enable easy distribution across channels. While PIM manages only product data information, ETL does not have any such exclusivity. The ETL process works with all types of data in an organization. It extracts structured and unstructured data from various sources and transforms it according to business rules to store in a common data repository for further analysis.

Process vs. platform: Data consolidation and distribution in PIM requires data loading, transfer, aggregation, and integration procedures. Therefore, we can construe that PIM operations require ETL processes. The actions necessary to share product information with marketing, sales, merchandising, product management, and various eCommerce teams involve extensive ETL tasks. It is essential to bring data in and send it out in the correct and desirable format from PIM to the required channels of distribution. Within this chain of events, the product data needs to be enriched and integrated to be useful for individual use cases. All of this is taken care of by ETL.

While both PIM and ETL work on the basic principle of centralizing, enriching, and delivering data to different channels, the latter acts as a subset process within PIM. The ETL process is applied in a PIM platform but is not limited to it. It is a data integration tool used in numerous data warehousing aspects for relevant business analytics and insights while also playing a crucial role in product data management and distribution.

ETL importance in the world of APIs

The present data ecosystem involving the internet and APIs is a complex one where there are multiple information sources and various business applications. Migrating information in such a setup has considerable complexities, which the ETL workflow cannot address. Content consumption in this digital economy is facilitated by using APIs to move information. By utilizing APIs, we can deliver a flexible information flow where data is decoupled from the underlying technology instead of the more rigid data transfer using structured, point-to-point pipelines in the ETL process.

This is where EAI (enterprise application integration) comes in. In the current digital world, APIs use EAIs in place of ETL to move data between multiple connected applications and systems. The mechanism of acquiring, processing, and publishing information with EAI promises to be more flexible and scalable as it allows client applications to interact and reconstruct data through API calls disregarding its format, location, or encasing technology. While ETL stands strong as a primary data integration process, EAI is increasingly employed with APIs in web-based systems to connect to anything, offering extraordinary connectivity.

EAI allows the interaction and integration of business applications both within and beyond the enterprise, all managed by API calls that let them talk to each other seamlessly in real-time. Further, data transactions between PIM and external third-party applications are managed by APIs, which offer responsive connectivity and real-time information communication. Such flexible integration in workflows works best for enterprise strategies, and therefore, one can say that the future of integration lies with API and EAIs.

Rajneesh Kumar
Rajneesh Kumar is Director, Marketing at Pimcore GmbH. He is developing the marketing plans. Operationally he is responsible for the marketing program and driving business outcomes. He builds data-driven decision-making frameworks – customer segmentation, Go to Market strategy, targeting, cross-sell/up–sell. Pimcore is an open-source platform for product information management (PIM/MDM), digital asset management (DAM), content management system (CMS), and eCommerce.


  1. Well observed Rajneesh! Adding and maintaining a proprietary ETL capability into a PIM tool does not mean that this is long term the best solution. Best of breed is entirely feasible and possibly preferable.


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