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  • Writer's pictureAnna Davidson

Schemas

The use of schemas is a topic discussed frequently in our industry. More than that–it’s a topic rife with confusion and concern. What’s a good schema? Do you need to change your schema? Should you use a given schema or create a custom one? 

IMA’s no stranger to the conversations and knows the breadth of schemas out there, perhaps better than anyone. With that experience in mind, today we’re discussing all things Material Master data schemas. 


What’s a schema?

Let’s start at the beginning. For data purposes, a schema is simply the rules that define how data is organized. Since the whole point of data cleansing and governance is to make sure your data is–and stays–consistent, it’s important to have standards for how your data will be entered and maintained. For Material Master data, that means creating a clear guideline of what data needs to be entered for an item, what format the data should be entered in, what units will be used (and how), and how it should appear.

 

Items can have a lot of attributes, so it becomes important to know what matters and how to standardize it. For example, a simple ball bearing can include all of the information below. But what really matters for your organization and what data is needed to make sure each item is uniquely identifiable?


Schema organization

Why it matters

We’ve said already that the point of having a schema to reference for data entry and cleansing is consistency. But what does that really mean? 


Imagine different employees entering an item, like a ball bearing. One thinks it’s important to note the material and where the bearing is used. One enters the dimensions in a single field, while another enters the dimensions separately. Each person names the item differently. 


Schem example

In this example, there is no consistent schema that all of the employees are following and that makes it difficult to understand that these entries are all for the same item. It may not seem like a big deal at first, but duplicate entries can lead to difficulties for your procurement and maintenance teams. If they can’t find a part when they search for it or don’t find the actual number of parts in stock, that can lead to spot buys or incorrect purchase amounts. And not having the correct amount in stock (or not being able to find it) can cause maintenance delays that cost the company thousands of dollars. In fact, we wrote a whole blog post about that issue! (See: How Material Master Data Drives Efficiency: Searchability & Maintenance Efficiency)


So having your data entered and cleaned to the proper schema makes a big difference.


What schema is the best? 

It might be easier to know what to do if there was one required schema, but that’s not the case. There are no predefined schemas; instead every organization must decide for themselves what is the most appropriate option. In general, organizations either create a schema in-house or adopt the schema from the data cleansing company they use. 


ECCMA

Since it’s so personal to organizational needs, there’s no one schema we can advise organizations to use. However, one of the more popular resources for schemas is ECCMA (https://eccma.org/). ECCMA offers standards and certifications that help increase the quality and consistency of data. If you’re just starting out or in need of a change, their site is a good place to start.



Why use one over another?

Do you need a custom schema? Should you use a schema from your data cleansing company? And what do you need to include? There’s a lot to think about, and pros and cons for all options. 


Frequently, in-house data schemas are overly complex. When they’re created, there’s often the urge to identify everything and include as many details as possible. While this is an understandable instinct, it has the effect of actually making a schema less effective. By overcomplicating what needs to be entered, you increase the amount of time spent on data entry and lose flexibility and searchability due to the sheer amount of attributes to filter on. It’s important to find the balance between including enough item details and not overburdening employees.


That said, a custom schema can be the best option if it is well designed and meets your needs. For example, if you have a schema that’s been in place for a decade and your processes are smooth, you don’t exactly want to go around messing with it. 


On the flip side, schemas from data management companies have the benefit of being tried and tested. They are often simpler than custom made schemas and properly designed for entry and searchability. The downside is that, for a lot of cases, the schemas are not customizable and may not meet specific requirements you have. For example, if your organization has a special code or other attribute specific to you, you may not be able to add that using a schema provided by another company.


Should you change your schema?

Above all, this is a conversation to have with your data management company. As we mentioned before, sometimes organizations have an entire data structure built on a custom schema. It doesn’t necessarily make sense, if that schema has been working, to change all of your data for the sake of using a provided schema. In fact, having to change your schema for the sake of working with a particular data provider will create an excess of difficult, added work for your employees. 


We recommend only changing schemas if a clear benefit is outlined. For example, if your employees are currently having trouble entering or searching data, that may be a sign that your schema is not working for you and a simpler one would prevail. But if that’s not the case, you should make sure you seek our data management companies that are flexible enough to adopt your schema.


What does IMA do?

IMA has the most customizable service in the Material Master data industry. We know how varied schemas can be and how important they are to customize, so we work hard to make sure that we can integrate with any custom schema provided. Not only can you use your own schema, we also have our own that can be adopted if that is the better option for you. And of course, we work with our customers every step of the way to make that decision and enact it!

For more information, check out our Services page.


IMA’s schema

IMA has developed a schema that finds the balance between enough detail to meet the needs of all users and simplicity of entry and management. We’ve learned through experience that an overly complex schema won’t be properly used because creating items is too involved, but a vague schema won’t contain the information users need. 


Our schema is designed to satisfy various audiences–from your procurement and maintenance teams to finance. We use the industry’s most popular attributes and over 2000 categories, making sure your data will be easy to enter and maintain, and beneficial for all your needs.


Over our 35 years in the business, IMA has become one of the most knowledgeable sources on schemas and Material Master data management. We love finding ways to meet individual needs and deliver world class data! To learn how IMA can help your organization, contact us at info@imaltd.com.

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