I often join our Technical Architects and Project Managers here at Balance Internet in various meetings with clients where they discuss integrations involved in an ecommerce project. I found myself wondering, what does the phrase integration really mean to an eCommerce project and an Australian retailer? So I asked Solutions Architect and Managing Director James Horne what’s all the fuss around integration?
Integration can mean a lot of things. What are the most common things retailers need assistance to integrate in your experience?
The largest challenge is that of master data. Retailers need to decide where their product, customer and transaction data resides and whether it needs to be synchronised across their eCommerce ecosystem. Typically the largest challenge faced by most Australian Retailers is integration of their eCommerce platform with their ERP or POS. Many of these legacy infrastructures do not have adequate API or web services interfaces and the integration must be designed to ensure data integrity, latency, reliability and real time accuracy. As a Magento Enterprise Systems Integrator, we have had experience integrating with MS Nav, Dynamics AX, SAP, Netsuite, Apparel 21, Retail Directions, Pronto, Harmony, Horizon, MYOB, QuickBooks, Xero, Unleashed, Ramis, ACCPAC and Lightspeed.
What are some of the more ‘niche’ jobs that a business like yours might help with and why aren’t these as common?
Australian Retailers look to eCommerce to grow revenue and create a unique competitive advantage. Most of the niche work we do here at Balance Internet involves developing custom features, plug ins or modules within the Magento Framework that increase traffic conversion and sales for retailers. The other group of niche projects we undertake involves integrating third party systems seamlessly into the clients eCommerce architecture. A recent example involved Swedish stationary company Kikki.K (http://www.kikki-k.com/) where we undertook a number of shopping cart customisations and integrated Magento into their ERP.
Why is integration important in the general running of an e-commerce/multichannel business? Can you provide real examples of integration benefitting businesses? Are you aware of examples when a lack of integration has crippled a business?
The key outcomes of integration is data integrity and productivity via automation. The extent of an integration can vary from full integration of all product, transaction and customer loyalty data, all the way through to simple inventory updates. Without integration a retailer is forced to do a lot of this work manually either via bulk import/export or direct editing in the CMS. I would estimate that our retailers across the board would see a benefit between 1 FTE ” 10 FTE depending on the size of the retailer, the number of skus or products and the number of customers and transactions.
In the past, many of our clients who launch without integration find that it becomes a necessity once the workload costs are apparent. Investing in integration is often the first improvement for their eCommerce store.
What is generally involved with an integration project? Does it just involve systems integration or do you also need to educate personnel?
Systems integration projects are typically highly technical and require the use of subject matter experts to work together as a team to achieve the outcome. The level of education that retailers require often depends on the eCommerce maturity of their business and staff. Experienced eCommerce retailers who have been trading online for over 5 years or more, require less hand holding than those who are facing the adventure for the first time. The most successful projects have us working with both experienced client side project managers and technical teams. This allows for a more rapid result and solution deployment.
Is integration something that can be done once across a whole business and never worried about again? Are there any examples of ‘set and forget’ in this case?
The short answer is no, but the most future proof method is to use a piece of middleware that sits between systems so that any changes to systems either side can be reconfigured with minimal time and effort.
What should a business’s priorities be for integration? What technologies should they try to ensure are integrated from Day 1, and what can be integrated later on?
In our opinion, the first priority is in integrated inventory and pricing data as this changes on a regular basis. The next level of integration would be the product data, customer data including loyalty data and transaction data.
Can you provide a breakdown of a common e-commerce/multichannel business in terms of all the technologies that may require some form of integration and give rough estimates on how long these individual projects might take/what resources, knowledge and skills are involved in each?
Every retail client requires a detailed discovery and scoping workshop to fully understand the business’s requirements. Prices for eCommerce deployments for traditional retailers can range from $10,000 to $1,000,000 and can take between 1 month and 1 year to deliver depending on the size and scale of the project.