Our global 2017 E-Commerce Fulfilment Report into warehouse and fulfilment trends recently identified a broad spectrum of software platforms now in use - or planned - at fast-growing online businesses.
As you might expect, e-commerce systems were well represented and many retailers said they were planning to invest further or make upgrades. In fact, approximately 80% of respondents are using an e-commerce platform from leading vendors such as Magento, Shopify and Volo, although one in five use their own software.
Add to this the current or planned deployment of various other technology platforms, including Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Carrier Systems, and a veritable hotchpotch of vendor and proprietary software is clearly apparent.
However, with increased investment and reliance on a combination of different vendor platforms comes the eventual requirement and inevitable challenge of deciding whether, when, and how, to successfully integrate some or all of them together.
On paper, integration may offer compelling business efficiencies and enhanced functionality between disparate systems, not to mention a more seamless user experience and overall return on investment (ROI). But it’s not a decision to be taken lightly, as many retailers who have looked into integration, or been through it, can testify.
The sheer complexity, cost and upheaval involved in achieving a successful multi-systems integration can cause many projects to never leave the whiteboard. Our research found one of the reasons why many businesses delay implementing a WMS, for example, is the complexities they have endured in making their systems ‘talk’ to other essential platforms.
Fortunately, new generations of dedicated e-commerce platforms - order management, shipping and WMS’ included - have come to market with open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and multiple connectors which facilitate the whole process of software harmonisation.
Even so, it’s still far from being a ‘one size fits all’ situation and therefore essential to do sufficient due diligence on why to do an integration in the first place. This will minimise the potential risk of finding out too late that you were better off with your existing assortment of standalone, rather than connected, software solutions.
Here are five ‘look before you leap’ considerations to help keep your planned integration project on track:
See the wood for the trees
Answering the “so what?” question is the logical start point of the conversation, but it’s surprisingly easy to overlook, or can become rapidly muddled further down the track when involving various colleagues, outside consultants and software solutions providers.
Remember, this is a business led discussion not a technical one. Focus on what you want out of it first rather than the pure technical merits. Which business problems or potential ones are you trying to address? What new levels of interoperability and reporting do you need from a user perspective that requires pushing data from one system to another?
Also think about future needs when evaluating potential integration approaches and technologies. Too much focus on addressing a short-term integration problem is likely to result in a system that’s untenable longer-term.
Share the load
To achieve a successful integration, devote sufficient time into scoping out the project. This will avoid problem areas when you subsequently carry out the integration. But don’t shoulder the whole burden alone - involve all colleagues/departments affected. Certainly IT will be involved (if you have one) but not exclusively.
For example, if you are planning on hooking up your e-commerce platform with the CRM or ERP, and/ or WMS, the heads of these areas should be consulted and invited to provide input. The same goes for other operations such as shipping. You may already have accounts software linked to the e-commerce platform but Finance should participate when it comes to any of the other business areas, ensuring the necessary checks and balances are made.
Appoint a project manager and leadership team whose job it is to oversee or carry out the implementation smoothly and on time.
Risk assessment and analysis
Don’t underestimate the potential complexity of the project. Is it just two, or maybe more, vendor provided solutions? Are you looking to encompass a proprietary/legacy system? Will you be re-platforming to include a hybrid of old and new software?
Once the decision to move forward is made the team should meet frequently and monitor ongoing progress, and crucially the completion timescales and any unplanned/unforeseen technical issues which may cause delays or have budgetary implications. If so, what business disruption will there be and lost productivity? So, it’s also important to consider the contingencies necessary for keeping business continuity.
Build or buy?
Will you be using in house resources or an outside contractor, or both? Clearly this will depend on the current size of the business and how much, or little, in house IT support/expertise is available. Outsourcing to the solutions vendors themselves may be the quickest and easiest solution, or perhaps to a specialist e-commerce integration provider.
Before making a final purchase look carefully and check that the new system or systems in mind will offer your business the desired level of integration (today or down the line), and where required, with existing and possibly proprietary software too. The latter may be a tall order for some but it is possible.
In summary, to ensure a successful integration project carry out a thorough and fully costed evaluation, agreeing the reasons and business case for doing it in the first place. Put in place a detailed project implementation plan which should be frequently reviewed and monitored by all stakeholders involved. Finally, take into consideration any potential compatibility issues between existing and proposed new software which may help, or hinder, the final project outcome.
If you would like to learn more about integrating and streamlining your e-commerce systems, visit the Peoplevox integrations page.