Among the many factors that can impact your success in your B2B eCommerce operations, understanding the benefits of ERP software and the correct approaches to its integration is one of the most crucial points that you’ll have to dig into. There is a lot of ground to cover here if you have no prior experience with ERP integration, and while the initial effort can be quite heavy, it’s something that will have various long-term implications on your business. This is also something that’s ideally handled as early as possible in your operations. Integrating ERP into an existing structure is certainly possible, but it’s more complicated than just building things from the ground up around this model.
Fundamentals of ERP Software
ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software can be seen as a centralized node that aggregates all important details about your current operations. You can use it to manage your accounting, production schedules, resource flows, invoices, and pretty much every other aspect of your operation that you can think of. Understanding how this type of software works on a fundamental level is going to take some time, but it will completely transform the way you approach your operations.
Your ERP will be responsible for holding all relevant business operations data – this means that you can use it to collect and aggregate anything from product details to customer information, price lists, shipping schedules, tax info, and more. The true power of B2B ERP integration comes in the way that it allows you to not only browse through this data, but to cross-reference different fields and analyze the whole package based on certain criteria.
That way, you can uncover some interesting relationships between data points which would otherwise not be obvious. Maybe shifting your invoicing windows by a certain factor is going to play a positive role on your manufacturing capabilities, or you’ll realize that you’re wasting a lot of inventory on points that don’t contribute much to the bottom line. Many of these connections would otherwise be impossible to make without advanced analytical tools like a comprehensive ERP solution.
How Integrating ERP Can Boost Your eCommerce Business
If you’ve already faced problems in some of the areas we mentioned above, you may already be seeing various opportunities for improvement with the help of advanced analytics. In general, ERP allows you to make more sense of the data you have available, analyzing it in-depth, and providing you with interesting insights. And even in cases where an immediate analysis doesn’t contribute anything valuable, a good ERP solution can still facilitate the long-term storage of that information so that it’s ready for analytical tools when the time is right.
You’ll also get a better overview of your inventory on all fronts, and will likely spot various opportunities for streamlining and optimization in this area. Cost savings are generally a major selling point of modern ERP solutions, and pretty much every company that has deployed one in their operations can attest to the fact that the benefits far outweigh the investment.
This will all lead to an improvement in your services and your relations with your customers and partners. That’s the main advantage many companies see in the use of ERP software, and it’s not something you can produce yourself with manual efforts in most cases.
How ERP Software Works with Your Data
One of the most important factors to understand about ERP solutions is how they handle your data, and the paths it takes as it flows through different components. This is especially important if you’re integrating ERP into an existing infrastructure, in which case you’ll have to align your current data flows with the way your chosen ERP solution handles things. Visualizing this properly is key to minimizing the amount of effort required for integrating ERP into your workflow. Working with a competent partner who can guide you through the process can help speed things up a lot, but having your data organized the right way from the start can definitely help out both sides in this case.
Approaching ERP Integration the Right Way
There are multiple viable approaches to ERP integration that can all work well in different circumstances, and it’s important to pick the right one for your specific case. You’ll often need professional assistance to make the right choice in this regard, as you will likely lack the advanced knowledge to ensure that you’re making the right call.
Point-to-point integration can make a lot of sense when you’re not working with a large number of data sources. As the name implies, it involves a direct link between involved applications, and usually doesn’t require any complex infrastructure to be set up to facilitate that data flow. However, as the number of your applications grows, this approach quickly becomes unwieldy and difficult to maintain.
With a middleware integration approach, your applications will communicate through the ERP itself. This can significantly cut down on the number of required connections, and can also simplify communication between applications in general, as it will lead to standardization on that front. There are various solutions designed to provide a good middleware component that can be easily linked to any number of applications, such as Apache Camel, SAP PO, and Microsoft’s Azure Logic Apps.
As a more extended version of the middleware model, you can consider a bus. Like its counterpart in computer hardware, a bus acts as a central line of data flow to which all applications connect, and can receive information up- or downstream. It can be an efficient way to manage a large number of applications in situations where a specific application is only concerned with the output of a small number of others. An efficient bus structure can significantly cut down on the amount of wasted information along the chain.
Choosing a Processing Strategy
Your processing strategy is just as important as your approach to ERP integration itself. For example, you may choose to migrate your data in real time, which can be quite messy and complicated, even for experienced developers, but can allow you to continue your operations without interruptions while smoothly transitioning over to your new solution.
Or you can also take a slower approach and integrate data in batches, which can be significantly slower but easier to manage during the process. Batch processing is especially viable when you want to be able to halt the operation at any point if issues come up, and it provides you with more fine-grained control over what’s happening.
In the end, a lot of those decisions will be handled by your chosen ERP partner. This makes it crucial to work with the right one from the very beginning, and to understand your own situation as well as possible before starting. In a larger organization, you may need to take some time to evaluate things closely before committing to any choice.
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