Integrating your ecommerce and ERP systems can unlock a whole new era of streamlined business processes, sophisticated business intelligence and, ultimately, sustainable business growth. However, it can also be a complex and costly process to undertake – so you need to not only be sure the time is right, but also plan your integration down to the last detail.
In this extended blog, we’re helping you decide whether the time is right to integrate your ERP and ecommerce systems, and guiding you through the key considerations when it comes to planning, undertaking and evaluating your integration.
What do we mean by ERP ecommerce integration?
At the most basic level, ERP ecommerce integration simply joins together your back-end Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system with your front-end ecommerce platform – the system through which customers place online orders. Without such an integration, there are various manual processes involved in ensuring that details of online orders are inputted to the ERP system, and that details of inventory and stock levels are inputted to the ecommerce platform.
With an integration, the two solutions can automatically share information. Any data inputted into one side will immediately appear in the other – and this drives myriad benefits. For example:
- A more streamlined and efficient sales and fulfilment process, ensuring customers get their orders faster.
- More efficient workflows, freeing up personnel to focus on more interesting or strategic work.
- Reduction of manual mistakes, including incorrect product information, order and shipment details, prices, stock levels and duplicated data – which in turn improves customer relationships and brand reputation.
- Removal of data siloes, granting greater visibility into sales and fulfilment process and more sophisticated business intelligence.
- The ability to produce and analyse reports in real-time, for a truly granular and dynamic view of performance.
- Improved customer loyalty thanks to more effective sales processes and fewer errors such as failure to alert them to sold-out products.
- Location-independence for your business, with all stakeholders and departments able to access inventory and pricing information anytime, anywhere.
Is the time right?
Whilst integrating your ERP and ecommerce systems can be hugely impactful, it can also be a complex process. As such, you need to be sure that it is the right time for your organisation to go down this road.
So – take a good look at your online sales. Are they growing, or surpassing your offline sales? Or, are they central to your future growth and expansion plans and do you want to ensure that they can develop smoothly and seamlessly? Ecommerce sales should be critical to your future strategy for it to be a sensible time to integrate with your ERP.
Consider, too, your current process for fulfilling online orders. If the amount of manual intervention – for example, manually adding the orders you receive through your various ecommerce channels to your overall sales system – is causing errors, slowing you down or costing you too much, then it is probably time to look at an ERP integration.
The options for integrating
Broadly speaking, there are three main routes you can go down when designing and implanting an ERP ecommerce integration. These vary in terms of complexity, flexibility and of course cost. Let’s take a look at each in turn.
The simplest and most cost-effective option, this simply ‘points’ your ERP and ecommerce systems at each other. They can then share information seamlessly with each other, removing the need for a manual import of data from one to the other.
The challenges with this approach come if you experience dramatic increases in online sales, or wish to add new online sales channels such as via social media. In these instances, you will need to reconfigure the point-to-point connectors. As such, this approach is best suited to smaller organisations with relatively ‘slow and steady’ online sales and no dramatic growth plans.
At the other end of the scale in terms of complexity (and cost), a custom integration is most suitable for large and complex organisations which have multiple specialist backend systems, or convoluted infrastructures. This approach ensures that you end up with an integration precisely suited to your needs – today and into the future – but you will pay for it.
Multichannel management platforms
A good middle ground, this approach provides a synchronisation hub between different systems – in this case, your ecommerce platform and your ERP solution. It provides more scalability and flexibility than the point-to-point connectors approach, and more cost-effectiveness than a custom integration. Typically it involves a cloud-based multichannel management platform and APIs – with all the agility that this implies.
Making your integration a success
So you’ve affirmed that the time is right to undertake this integration project, and you’ve chosen the approach that’s right for your business. How do you ensure that your integration goes without a hitch? There are a few stages to consider:
Engage with your partners
You need to find the right partner to support you through your integration – one which understands your processes and business plans, has experience across similar projects and genuine high-level expertise in the ERP ecommerce integration system you have chosen. Of course, partners like APH can be brought in even earlier, to help you identify the right route forward for your organisation. The important thing is to have a long-term strategy – this is an integration which should support your online sales for years to come.
Identify your key datasets and processes
By this we mean taking a granular approach to all the different pieces of information and core business processes which must be automatically updated and sent between your ERP system and ecommerce platform after integration. After all, this is not just a process of flipping the switch; you need to ensure that all of your core processes will be smoothly enabled, today and into the future.
Typically, the information which must be automatically updated and sent from your ERP to your ecommerce platform will include:
- Product information changes (descriptions, prices, support documentation, certifications, etc)
- Changes to inventory stock levels in line with both procurement and offline sales
- Promotions, offers and discounts
- New and discontinued products
Whilst the information which must be automatically updated and sent from your ecommerce platform to your ERP will include:
- Orders and payments
- Changes to inventory stock levels in line with online sales across each channel
- Customers and shipments information (new and updated)
Allocate plenty of resource for testing
ERP ecommerce integrations are complex and time-consuming, and should never be switched on without a truly comprehensive testing and evaluation phase. There will be a technical aspect to this, ensuring that all relevant data truly is being migrated between the two systems automatically, accurately and completely, but there will also be a human aspect. All relevant internal stakeholders from your organisation should be able to try out the new system, see if they find it useful and ensure that they know how to use it properly.
Consider ongoing training and support
To truly get the most out of your ERP ecommerce integration, you need to ensure that everyone who will be using the new system is well-versed in how it works, how they can access the information they need and what they should do if anything goes wrong.
It is wise to include a training and technical support plan for at least the first few months after the initial integration, and potentially on an ongoing basis.
How APH can help
APH can guide you through every stage of a successful ERP ecommerce integration, from deciding the best approach and planning your project, through delivery, testing and evaluation. Get in touch with us today.