The Truth in Syndication…

Three options for meeting UDI specifications for healthcare products

Centralizing product content in today’s global, omnichannel healthcare marketplace is a necessity. Responsibility for product data is often distributed across many functions including engineering, marketing, regulatory, and supply chain. Product Information Management (PIM) systems can provide medical device suppliers a way to consolidate and manage their product content. This makes the data more efficient to work with across different recipients including regulators, healthcare providers, trading partners, Group Purchasing Organizations (GPO) and marketplace sites.

 

However, most PIM solutions are focused on the input and management aspects of product content. While integration with data recipients may be possible, there often are gaps – they lack some of the basic processes and functionality for getting product content, completely, delivered across multiple recipients, with each having diverse requirements.

What's Missing?

Most PIM systems were not designed for today's fast-moving healthcare market:
  • They are complex systems that require months (sometimes years) to fully implement
  • They require data to be organized in the PIM system’s structures
  • They are not designed with UDI or other compliance requirements out of the box
  • If they syndicate data externally to recipients, this is typically implemented as an add-on rather than integrated
  • They are not tuned for flexible or customized methods of “direct plug-in” to recipients
  • They lack the ability to ensure data quality and completeness based on specific requirements of each target recipient
  • They lack audit capabilities to verify whether product content has gone live in recipient systems and is presented properly

This creates added complexity, which leaves it up to the supplier’s Content, eCommerce, or Logistics resources to manage.

There are three basic ways to address the challenge of delivering great product content to healthcare partners:

1. Maintain spreadsheets and local files

2. Build your own PIM and connections to regulators and partners

3. Invest in a partner solution

UDI: what do regulators need?

In the consumer goods world, every product has its own Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN). This is required so that the many supply chains around the world can keep track of which products are where. Although some medical device makers utilize a GTIN, many do not. Regulators that require UDI standards will typically require either GTIN, HIBCC, ICCBBA, and/or IFA identifiers. Countries just entering UDI standards, like China, may approve additional identifiers. Thankfully Syndigo and our CXH platform can manage them all.

Spreadsheets and Local Files

Implementing a product content workflow without a PIM solution is possible. It means you implement some form of the following:

1. Gather a collection of template files and partner portal logins, stored in a local folder and spreadsheet

2. Export product data from your supply chain system to a CSV or XLSX file, or enter it manually

3. Copy and paste product data from your source spreadsheet to each distributor/GPO template or portal

4. Make copies of image and video files

5. Rename image and video files in each recipient’s required format (or upload those files to a file sharing service and copy the links to them, if the recipient requires links instead of files)

6. Upload each template file and the image/video files to recipient ftp servers, email addresses, or web portals based on individual recipient requirements

7. Check if the content has gone live

8. Repeat the process for new product content

It’s easy to see that this process can work with a limited number of SKUs to manage, but it can quickly become a challenge. We have seen companies in the healthcare space with more than 100,000 SKUs distributed globally, managing it all in spreadsheets. However, this is labor-intensive and can be prone to mistakes. Since UDI requirements are different across countries and regions, this method of data management also requires a proactive approach on the manufacturer’s end to ensure content remains accurate and viable.

A PIM with little to no syndication is not a successful solution.

Build your own PIM (BYOP)

An alternative to the cumbersome manual workflow described above is to build your own PIM solution. In fact, we’ve worked with many clients who manage a PIM (or PIMs) as a way of managing all their products internally. This approach often costs millions of dollars and multiple years of investment.

Building your own PIM means you’ll implement some form of the following:

1. Define requirements for your PIM

2. Obtain initial budget approval

3. Write specifications

4. Recruit or shift resources to software development team

5. Implement connectors/exporters for major receivers so that content can be exported from PIM system to recipient system

6. Perform system testing

7. Import content into PIM system

8. Export/syndicate content

9. Check recipients to see if content was received and has gone live

10. Obtain additional budget to support on-going investment

11. Update PIM functionality based on additional requirements and market changes

That’s a lot of steps. Building your own PIM requires a complete product, product management and engineering team, long-term allocation of dedicated budget and resources, and time.

 

If you can overcome the budget, headcount, and ongoing maintenance issue (once the system is up and running), your biggest challenge overall may be time to market. Each of the steps above will take multiple months (if not longer) to execute. Put them together and that could add up to several years before you have a system live. This is not optimal with new UDI standards coming online almost every year.

Make sure to identify and implement the data connectors and exporters for each major recipient.

This solution still requires a way to monitor and manage the connections to regulators and other data recipients. Most regulators (except Saudi Arabia) will accept machine-to-machine (M2M) data submissions, which can be supported by any of the data management options described here. However, when leveraging M2M via Manual or traditional PIM-based data management, the manufacturer is also required to build and maintain all the data connections themselves, or to work with a syndication partner anyway (one of Syndigo’s capabilities).

A Third Option

In both of the above examples, the challenge of building and maintaining an infrastructure is on the supplier. Equally as important, the ability to syndicate this information to recipient partners depends on the level of partnership / engagement you may be able to cultivate.

 

We believe that for a modern PIM to be a successful business solution, it also must be integrated into a syndication network. For example, in the consumer goods space with the rapid growth of eCommerce, a PIM with little to no syndication is not a successful solution. Similarly in healthcare, with the global emergence of UDI requirements, It is likely even more so the case for medical device suppliers.

 

Consider the third option: Finding a partner that manages the infrastructure and connections, enabling the medical device supplier to focus on its core competencies and affordably scale to increasing demands while meeting functionality, cost, and schedule requirements.

Invest in a partner solution

In some ways investing in a third-party partner solution has the most potential upside; however it is not without some risk. Choosing the wrong partner may lead to implementation delays when setting up new items, or having incomplete or ineffective syndication capabilities could lead to data errors or content not being accepted… a significant risk under UDI regulations.

 

To invest in a partner solution, you’ll need to do some form of the following:

1. Define requirements

2. Identify potential partners

3. Vet partners

4. Define joint roadmap

5. Sign contract

6. Implement

7. Iterate

Vetting partners goes beyond reviewing user interfaces, data collection or and taxonomy capabilities. A key component to a successful PIM is the solution provider’s syndication capabilities. Some tout a “direct plug-in” to their recipients; however, it is important to evaluate the direct plug-in capabilities across multiple recipients with varying data requirements and delivery mechanisms.

 

Step #4 is sometimes overlooked when choosing a partner but is necessary for success in today’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) world. Fortunately, more and more enterprises are partnering closely with technology vendors to help define both their near and long-term product roadmaps. This ensures better alignment with implementation and product enhancements down the road.

Once you implement a partner approach, all the steps of content input, validation, enrichment, syndication and audit are managed by the solution provider. If there is the likelihood that your PIM system will become integral to how you optimize your ongoing global UDI submissions, you will want to partner with a third party rather than rely on a static in-house solution. Challenges persist with newly emerging UDI and other regulations and as regulators change their requirements. Without full-time monitoring and communication, device submissions that once were accepted and compliant may be rendered invalid without much notice.

Additionally, if speed to market is important, a good solution provider can get up and running fast, with minimal implementation time, incorporating your requirements on an on-going basis. This dramatically simplifies and accelerates new product and market launches.

Are you ready to win?

Syndigo can provide the platform for managing product information as well as the syndication network across multiple requirements and delivery specifications to distribute content to regulators, trading partners, healthcare providers, and GPOs, each in accordance with their unique data requirements and delivery mechanisms.

Ready to Learn More?

Syndigo is the global leader for validated core and enhanced digital product content including deep nutritional data, and GDSN data across the largest network of 1,750+ retailers, distributors and trading partners, including over 12,000+ manufacturers and suppliers.