Invariably one of those requirements is about integration by which we mean making software systems talk to each other.
If you have well chosen administrative software systems in place then the issue of integration may not be so complex or difficult. Some of the main requests we see for integration requests are:
- Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
- Financial Systems
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- Warehousing - stock control and shipping
- Point of Sale (POS)
- Payment systems
- Shipping systems
Many of the companies we meet have a view that there must be real time integration between the back end admin systems and the website. However this is often the least likely and least effective solution.
We recently had a discussion with a medium sized business using MYBO and they wanted to get all product and stock data from MYOB in real time (meaning as transactions occurred) and post orders to MYOB and create new customers in real time. Problem was the MYOB system ran on a server in their internal network without Internet access. So sending information back and forth from a website remotely hosted was going to be a challenge. In this case the Financial Controller ran MYOB and did not want it open, the Marketing Manager ran the website and wanted to sell online. The Managing Director wanted the online sales to be delivered in real time to MYOB because the Financial Controller believed that was the only way that the company could control online orders. This is a no-win situation.
So the first issue that you need to address is get everyone on the same page.
The methods of integration vary for different systems but in general they are:
Import / Export Files (CSV, Excel etc)
In this situation information is passed from one system to the other but they are not connected in any way. This method of integration is safe and works in the majority of systems as most have import / export and it all comes down to format and field mapping.
Web services or SOAP
This is a little more complex but is about real time connectivity. In this case there are XML files that are used to map data between the two separate systems. The movement of data can be as required, meaning that it may happen as transactions occur or may happen on a scheduled basis.
Data Base Integration using SQL
Most systems these days have some form of SQL data base behind them. So you can update the data base tables using SQL or you can use one of the data mapping tools available. This method of integration can often be complex and lead to issues unless the referential integrity of the data bases are maintained correctly.
There needs to be a decision made about integration based on the real needs of the business. if you get 2 or 3 orders a day online then manually entering that into you financial system is not an issue. But if you get 600 a day it is a different story. But ask the question about how often the systems need to be in sync.
The other area that is important to integrate is stock levels and availability. If this is not done correctly and maintained then you may end up selling products you don't have. In reality this is far more important that order information but probably less emotional. If you business is solely selling online then the website can manage stock levels and be updated daily or as required. Again the level of effort depends on the number of products. But if you sell from a real bricks and mortar store as well as online you have added a layer of difficulty. If the products that you sell can be easily replenished then running out may not be an issue. So you are left with a decision based on;
- Number of products
- Method of sale
- Time to restock
- Impact of delay in shipment
When you start looking at integration make sure that you clearly define what you want as an outcome. The negative affects maybe cost, online performance and more complex back office systems. The positives are better customer service, more efficient systems and processes, and less human resources.
You might also find that it is simpler and cheaper to replace an aging financial system with one that is more able to handle online sales one such example is SAP Business One which integrates easily into eCommerce. Often we have found that the companies we speak to made a decision on a financial system many years previously and over time the business changes but the system does not. End result is that the back end administrative systems impede the companies progress and growth.
Payment and Shipping systems should always be considered as they improve both usability and security.