This is the second post in our 3 post series on starting out with eCommerce. You can find the first post, 7 Steps to Adding eCommerce to Your Business, here.
As we’ve previously talked about in this series, Forrester Research estimates that online sales will increase to $523 billion by 2020. If you sell a product or service and it isn’t already a goal for your organization to add eCommerce to your business, it will be soon.
But many organizations that have been around for years face the same problem when pushing their business into the 21st century. Your entire organization is ready to make the leap, except for your existing legacy systems. Whether that’s order management, finance, inventory, or all of the above, if your important processes or data are on an older system, it will make your efforts to sell online more complicated than just picking the right eCommerce platform.
You see, while many larger and older organizations continue to be silo’d within the enterprise, customers are expecting a single, unified shopping experience. They expect that there be some consistency in pricing from their local store or sales rep to online, that their information be the same and transferable across channels, their preferences easily available no matter where they shop.
This means that you can create a standalone online shopping experience, but it won’t impress your customer base, who are already savvy internet consumers. Especially when your competition – who isn’t burdened by the technical debt of a legacy system – is already meeting those expectations.
You have a leg up on the newcomers, however. You have a wealth of customer information, you have business systems and processes in place and customers that already know your products and brand. You just need to get around the hurdle of integrating your new eCommerce platform with your in-place systems.
There are several options open to companies facing the challenge of eCommerce integration. Knowing some of your options will help you make the best decision for your organization’s needs now and in the future.
eCommerce Integration Options
Find a platform that already integrates
Vendors recognize that companies with older, expensive and large enterprise systems in place may not have the option or desire to rip out those systems and replace them merely to add eCommerce to their business. As a result, a number of eCommerce packages have emerged that allow for direct integration of your online sales platform with your existing systems.
This is an option to examine if you have bulky, highly customized legacy systems and you know that your company has no appetite for making a huge change to those systems in the near future.
However, this could cause problems in the future if you’re not careful. While the eCommerce platform may be a perfect fit with your existing system, it may not play nice with new systems that you bring in, or with partner or vendor systems. Also, the specific eCommerce platform that works with your legacy system may not have the features and functionality that you need or that your customers expect.
Build custom interfaces
If you’ve got a highly customized legacy system in place, you might consider custom building an interface between your eCommerce platform of choice and your existing systems. Again, this is an approach to consider if you know you won’t be updating your underlying legacy systems soon.
However, be aware that you’ll not only be adding to the existing customizations of your systems, adding to the complexities of upgrading later. You’ll also be hampering your ability to rapidly make changes to your system to keep up with the fluid eCommerce business environment.
In addition, you’ll be adding a fair amount of technical debt and increasing your total cost of ownership over time, as you’ll need to build custom interfaces for all of the systems that you need to connect to now and in the future.
Use an EAI or an IAI
A third (and fourth) option is to implement an Enterprise Application Interface (EAI), or an Internet Data Integration (IDI).
An EAI is middleware that sits between your systems and allows them to talk to one another. It is like custom building interfaces between your eCommerce platform and your legacy systems in that there is an interface created between these two. However, an EAI is a system which provides a middleware framework to connect all of your various business systems to one another, facilitating the communication between those systems.
EAI systems concentrate specifically on integrating enterprise systems, which can include eCommerce. However, some critics of EAI claim that, while it does make integration between systems possible, it doesn’t answer the need for real-time eCommerce transactions. A relative newcomer to the playing field is IDI, or Internet Data Integration, which picks up where EAI left off.
Add into an ERP project
The last entry takes into account those organizations that are already in the process of modernizing their systems, or are willing to put in the money and effort to do so, by implementing an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.
If an EAI is a series of pipes that connects one system to another, an ERP is more like a hub and spoke model. The ERP sits in the middle of your systems, connecting to each and comprising a common database, giving a synchronized set of data from which to work. In this way, everyone using an ERP connected application is working off the same data as everyone else. They also include synchronized reporting and some automation tasks, which help to optimize your processes and speed up business interactions.
For instance, instead of an order coming into your eCommerce, being sent along to order management, who then manually keys the order into your fulfillment system, all of those systems would be looking at the ERP for data. Once an order is fed in from the eCommerce platform it would then flow to the ERP, then out to be fulfilled without manual interaction or delays.
The downside, of course, is that ERP systems can be costly and time consuming to implement. But if they are already a system you’re considering adding to manage your business with your legacy systems, it will make adding eCommerce to those systems relatively easy.
Your best bet when evaluating eCommerce solutions for your business is to examine your overall business needs for now and well into the future. While you may not be able to immediately implement the system of your dreams, you’ll know the options and be able to lay down a path forward to meet the growing demand for e-business and online shopping.