eCommerce Storefront Integration with an ERP: Why it matters

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Many companies rely on an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system or application to manage their back office business data and processes.  ERPs typically manage sales orders, customer data, invoicing, purchase orders, order fulfillments and more.  Often times, the ERP will serve as the primary source of record for this type of data. 

In today’s business environment, efficiency is key.  Let’s explore what is involved with integrating your ERP with your online sales systems.

Why automate your integration?

With ERPs typically serving as the source of truth for your customer, product, order and invoicing data, it makes sense to integrate your ERP with your ecommerce system.  Automating the integration ensures a higher level of data quality, but may also save a great deal of time by eliminating manual data entry or  mistake-prone data entry processes.

If you are launching a new ecommerce channel, it is imperative that you consider an automated ERP integration to leverage the existing customer, product, sales and inventory data.  A real time connection means your customers will see the most accurate, real-time product inventory online.

Types of integrations

While there are a great number of integration types, we’ll focus on the most common integration scenarios. 

One of the simpler integrations is one-to-one, meaning your ecommerce application and ERP are sharing data in one or both directions.  This might be as simple as leveraging the import export capabilities on both systems.  For instance, your ecommerce system allows you to export order data every night and copy it to an SFTP server.  Then your ERP pulls that data from the server each morning to update inventory.   

Another common one-to-one scenario is a purpose built add-on or module for your ecommerce application that is designed to speak directly to your flavor of ERP.  For instance, many ERP companies build Magento, BigCommerce and Shopify modules to facilitate a direct integration.   This option is often the most budget-friendly way to integrate the two systems, but may have limitations in the data that can be synchronized.

Another option is to create a custom middleware application that utilizes the APIs for both systems to pass data back and forth.  This approach is quite common, as once the middleware application is in place, it makes expanding your integration to other channels much less cumbersome.  For instance, you might add an integration to your tax or shipping services or connect to your PIM for real-time product updates.  Your marketing tools can later be connected to pull key customer data.   The custom approach gives companies more control of the types of data and the timing of the synchronization, but is also more costly.

Typical Data Synchronization

Data synchronization planning  is an important aspect of any integration project.  Consider, for example, that you currently have several years worth of customer order data in your ERP that is not synched with your ecommerce platform.  Most of those orders were placed over the phone and any returns or changes are processed over the phone.  With the integration, you would ideally tie all of those historical orders to the appropriate ecommerce customer, so they could self-service more of their orders and returns.  That’s why when we think about ecommerce to ERP data synchronization, we need to consider both the initial synchronization of “historical” data and the ongoing synchronization as data changes in either system.   It is imperative that we map the data between the two systems, so that we get the most out of the integration 

In an ideal world, we would synchronize customer, product, sales order and invoice, shipping and tax information between the two systems in real-time.  However, it is quite common that we run into limitations on one or both systems.  In those cases, we might queue up the data in batches for synchronization on a schedule or even limit the synchronization to only critical data points, with the ERP being the source of truth.  For instance, some integrations utilize a real-time sync for product and inventory updates, but might batch up orders for processing later.

Where We Can Help

At ArgonDigital we’ve helped clients with all aspects of integrations, from simple import/export automation to custom-built middleware applications that automate entire ecosystems.  There is no one size fits all with integrations, but we can help you decide which integrations make the most sense for the way you do business.

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