Small Manufacturer’s Guide: Managing Your Product Data

Jared Haw
Jared Haw
27 October, 2023 | 5 min for reading
Small Manufacturer’s Guide: Managing Your Product Data

For years, small manufacturers have relied on Excel, Google Sheets, Airtable, and other ways of managing their product data. The reasons for this were that legacy systems were too expensive and too complex for the needs of these small-scale manufacturers. For a while, the option were limited, Excel or investing in a high-cost product data management system which were designed for larger companies. 

However, as technologies have evolved, smaller manufacturers are no longer required to choose between Excel and these legacy-based systems. 

In this guide, we will go over the steps on how small manufacturers can free themselves from Excel and move to a data-centric approach. We’ll go over why it’s essential for these small manufacturers to embrace a product data management system and how it helps the company reach its financial goals. 

The Excel Challenge

For years, Excel has been the go-to tool for data management. A familiar face and ease of use have made it an important tool for manufacturers. Manufacturers have managed their BOMs, parts, changes, inventory, and more using these spreadsheets. 

But what’s the problem?

While the ease of Excel is favorable, there are many limitations that come with relying on Excel to manage your important product data. 

Creation of Data Silos

One of the goals of going digital is to eliminate different data silos. Sending Excels from one department to another creates data silos which makes it impossible to know who is working on the right data. 

Lack of Automation 

Excel lacks robust automation features. Therefore, tasks that should be automated still rely on manual work which can lead to errors

Lack of Collaboration

Using Excel does not enable collaboration. Each change requires you to send the Excel file back to everyone. For digital transformation, these should be shared in real-time. 

Version Control Problems

With data residing in multiple files, it’s easy for discrepancies to arise leading to confusion and errors. 

The Concept of Single Source of Truth

Companies that are looking to improve overall efficiency need a place where all of their data is stored. A place where users can view, make changes, and input data for the rest of the organization. This is what’s referred to as the single source of truth. 

For small manufacturers, establishing a single source of truth for product data means unifying scattered, fragmented data into a single system. 

There are many reasons why a single source of truth is essential for your manufacturing business. Here are some core reasons:

Data Consistency

In a fragmented data landscape, inconsistencies are inevitable. Conflicting product information can lead to errors in orders, production, or customer communications. A single source of truth ensures that all stakeholders access the same, accurate data, minimizing discrepancies and errors.

Improved Decision-Making

With accurate, up-to-date product data available in a centralized repository, decision-makers can rely on trustworthy information to make strategic choices. Whether it’s pricing adjustments, inventory management, or product development decisions, having a single source of truth facilitates informed, data-driven choices.

Enhanced Collaboration

Collaborative efforts among team members, departments, and even external partners are streamlined by the presence of a single source of truth. Real-time access to shared data fosters better teamwork and more effective communication.


A single source of truth brings transparency to data management. All changes, updates, and historical data are easily accessible, making it simpler to trace the evolution of product information.


As manufacturers grow, the volume and complexity of their product data increase. A single source of truth can seamlessly accommodate this growth, ensuring that the data management system doesn’t become a bottleneck.

Making the Transition Away From Excel

Transitioning from the comfort of Excel to a more advanced product data management system is undoubtedly a significant leap for small manufacturers. This shift involves not just a change in tools but also a transformation in mindset and processes. 

Here are the steps to help you to successfully transition from Excel to a data-centric approach:

Embrace a New Mindset

The first step to making a transition in anything is to always change your mindset. Going from Excel to a single source of truth is an opportunity for growth rather than description. This is a strategic decision to enhance efficiency, accuracy, and collaboration. 

Define Your Needs

Einstein is quoted as saying “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” The point here is preparation and understanding the problem is very important when trying to find a solution. 

Plan your Migration

Change does not happen overnight. It’s a thoughtful planning process that entails multiple stakeholders and steps. Plan with what data needs to be migrated and ensure it’s done accurately. 

Measuring ROI

Transitioning from Excel to a product data management system is a strategic move for small manufacturers. And like any business investment, it’s essential to assess the return on investment (ROI). 

Calculating ROI is not as straightforward as measuring ROI for other activities, such as sales. Looking at the ROI of this system also takes into account multiple departments. Here are some tips on how to measure ROI:

  • Reduction in cost of goods sold (COGS)
  • ECO Cycle Time
  • Operational efficiency 
  • Time engineers can focus on value-added activities
  • Reduction in material costs
  • Time saved with RFQs
  • Reduced purchasing errors
  • Lead time reduction 

What to do Today

Effective product data management is no longer a luxury but a fundamental necessity. The shift away from Excel to a product data management system is not just a technological transition but a holistic transformation. It requires a shift in mindset and a commitment to data accuracy. 

OpenBOM is a cloud-based PDM & PLM platform to manage your engineering and manufacturing data. Companies from startups to Fortune 500s use OpenBOM to create a centralized database to bring in, store, and manage their manufacturing data. With this infrastructure, users also use OpenBOM to streamline both their change management and PO processes.

If you need to improve the way you manage your data and processes, share data instantly, or collaborate with contractors and suppliers. contact us today for a free consultation.


Jared Haw

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