What is ecommerce integration

Ecommerce and Software Integration: How Technology Supports Online Business

Every company that is active in online trading will sooner or later reach the point where maintaining the Excel tables with customer names, orders and stock levels becomes a very tedious and lengthy process. And so software solutions are used that are intended to facilitate and automate data maintenance. Cloud-based solutions have become an indispensable part of this, after all, we are living in the era of software democratization, i.e. in a time when it has become much easier to acquire software thanks to cloud computing.

Many companies make use of the wide range of all software solutions, mostly initially for merchandise management (ERP) and customer management (CRM), because these areas are really business-critical. Later, as the company grows, other areas such as logistics and sales / marketing are also covered. But one way or another, most companies will have to find out fairly quickly that the switch from manual entries to software applications does not in itself offer much help with data maintenance: the applications also have to somehow “communicate” with one another.

Integrated software applications make it easier to maintain business processes

And in fact, what use is it to an online retailer to use beautiful, easy-to-use and powerful software solutions such as Shopware as online shop software, MS Dynamics Navision for inventory management and SugarCRM for customer management, if these three applications are unable to exchange data with each other, and preferably automatically?

This functionality is essential to enable online retailers to truly optimize their business processes. For example, a new lead is automatically created in the CRM system after each new registration in the online shop or a new customer with a permanent ID together with a sales order in the ERP system after the first order, as is each new order in the online shop according to ERP System in order to generate a corresponding invoice later. The entire movement data and orders are only maintained in one place and only once. Further data, which in our experience are usually defined as the standard for integration solutions, are contacts, customers, offers, orders, articles, units of measure, currencies and invoices.

In addition, more and more online retailers are attaching importance to connecting freight forwarders such as DHL or DBSchenker. Deliveries can be registered directly from the ERP system and status changes can be automatically communicated to the customer.

What do you have to pay attention to in general when purchasing new software?

Unfortunately, there is hardly any software that is developed together with interfaces to other applications. It is understandable that, in the end, the core business of every software manufacturer is the development of the actual software, and later its optimization, improvement and updating. It would certainly be an advantage to ensure that the software can be easily integrated with other applications, but most of the time interface programming is left to third parties, communities or internal IT teams.

On the other hand, it is impossible nowadays to cover all conceivable integration scenarios right from the start. There are far too many cloud apps out there for that, and more are being released on a regular basis.

What the IT team of an online retailer should pay attention to when selecting the new software is how high the integration potential of the new software is. Is it a cloud-based or an on-premise solution? Cloud-based solutions are usually easier to integrate. If it's an on-premise solution, does it have an API and how good is that API? How good is the API documentation? Are there ready-made interfaces from third-party providers or perhaps even from the manufacturer, and if so, how comprehensive are they? Are there already reports in the respective communities about these interfaces? Because even if an interface is offered by the manufacturer itself, it does not mean that it is good, e.g. one of our customers has already had this experience.

In the next step, the IT team should commit to a specific integration strategy. Since the complexity of the integrations is often not considered, they often become a cost trap. In addition, online retailers often underestimate the need to connect additional systems in the future, special requests that emerged in the course of the project, and missing or inadequate monitoring in the event of system errors. So it is very important to know before new software is purchased how easily it can be integrated and who will integrate it with one another. This is the only way for the online retailer's IT team to make a good estimate of the upcoming integration effort.

Four solutions to the integration problem in a quick comparison

There are basically four options for integrating business applications with one another. We go through them all, we don't want to make any recommendations. In the end, every online retailer should decide for themselves which option suits them best.

  1. Third party provider of ready-made integration solutions.
    There are enough providers who offer ready-made integration solutions for business applications such as Salesforce or Sage. Zapier, WeWiredWeb, OneSaaS are just a few examples. Your advantage is clearly that you save a lot of time, because the interfaces are already built and preconfigured. In addition, such providers usually offer a wide range of applications to be integrated.

    However, if you choose the integration solution from a third party, you are heavily dependent on their offer, no matter how wide it is. That could cause difficulties in the future expansion of the integration: What if the interface to the financial software that the company would like to integrate next with the ERP, CRM and shop is not offered by the third-party provider?

    This is particularly true when it comes to German software providers such as DATEV, Shopware or commerceTools. Then there is the question of data security, because most third-party providers are based in the USA, and the question of the depth of integration: for complex solutions such as two -Way synchronization between ERP and CRM or for specific, individual adjustments, third-party providers are often not suitable.

  2. Online agencies.
    There are enough agencies that specialize in integrating certain software. The first big advantage of such agencies is their geographical position - there are many German agencies, i.e. data that is exchanged between systems does not leave Germany. The next advantage is that the solution can be adapted as required and can therefore really meet the business needs of the company.

    The disadvantage of a digital agency is that their offer is usually even tighter than that of third-party integration solution providers. Very often an agency specializes in the integration between one or two specific shop software, e.g. Shopware and BigCommerce, and one or two CRM or ERP systems. So there is not really much room for future integration needs, such as connecting the freight forwarders.

    When an online retailer decides on a digital agency, they should therefore pay attention to who the partners of this agency are. It is a good sign when an online agency has entered into partnerships with other agencies that specialize, for example, in the integration of certain financial or logistics software. Or, as in the case of Keynet, an online agency from Austria and our partner, work together with integration service providers from the DACH region.

  3. In-house integrations.
    Many companies decide to develop the interfaces on their own. The advantages are beyond question: the internal developers know exactly how deep the integrations go, how data is to be organized and which data is to be mapped in which system, and they maintain an overview of the entire project.

    However, this option is more suitable for large online retailers who have a much larger IT team. Because even provided that developers have the necessary know-how, the development of interfaces is not part of the company's core business. The company must therefore ensure that the actual business will not suffer from the integration project, which can take weeks or even months. A large online retailer can assign 2-3 developers to this project relatively “painlessly”, a medium-sized or even small company simply cannot afford this.

    But here a word of warning: The learning process that each individual application will require of its developers can hardly be implemented for the next application due to the uniqueness of each relevant API. Therefore, every online retailer who chooses the path of in-house integration should be fully aware of the time and cost involved.

  4. Integration platform-as-a-service.
    Metaphorically speaking, an integration platform offers a multiple socket to which other software solutions can be connected. Of course, unlike the socket, these solutions can be integrated with one another in any way using the integration platform. This ensures uniform management of data migration, holistic monitoring and monitoring of data synchronization across all integrated systems.

    The interfaces, which are usually delivered together with an integration platform, are usually very extensive. Here, too, of course, the question of data security arises, because most integration platform providers such as Snaplogic or Mulesoft come from the USA. But this situation has improved in the last few years, and Europe can also look forward to some locally based providers. Another disadvantage of an integration platform is the relatively limited range of interfaces available, because here too it is impossible to foresee all conceivable integration scenarios.

    In this area, however, there are signs of a new trend, namely self-service integration. This involves an integration platform such as the elastic.io platform, which not only provides ready-made interfaces and integration tools, but also development tools. This approach enables developers to modify existing interfaces but also to build new interfaces, and this is easier, faster and more cost-effective than if they would do it without the integration platform. You get a uniform infrastructure on the basis of which you can integrate further applications at any time and holistic monitoring across all systems.