Planning your ERP integration
As a follow-on to the discussion on the reasons to consider using an ERP solution, what would be the next step to consider having a discussion regarding the effort it would take to make the integration a reality?
If this strategy makes sense for your eCommerce store, the next step is to assess and plan the feasibility, the costs associated with it, and the effort that it will take to launch/go-live with the implementation.
Data mapping and alignment
Data transfer testing and verification
Assessing your platform
With any integration, the capabilities of your eCommerce store are critical in both access and its data architecture so as to connect your platform to an ERP system. While the major platforms such as Magento, Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce will have such support, smaller platforms may have reduced capabilities in both integration partners (connectors) or support.
Does your platform have an API (Application Programming Interface) for you to export and import data to your eCommerce store?
Is that capability able to not just import but also update records?
Working with your eCommerce store development team is key to get some answers on your readiness. ERP partners will have either in-house connectors or partners that work with them to offer you that connection to your eCommerce platform. Not all connectors are created/supported equally. Various dependencies exist in this area, which is critical to your feasibility, which requires a technically minded individual to help assess that connection:
Is the connection real-time, or does it sync every few minutes?
Is the connection part of the ERP solution, or is it a separate app by a 3rd party at an additional cost?
Who will provide support for any data issues encountered in the transfers?
Is the connection 2-way? If you update a record in one place, it mirrors onto the other and Visa Versa?
Getting ready to map out your data flow
With the above answers in hand, one can begin to put together how the data will flow from your eCommerce store to your ERP system with the help of the various people involved in making the connection work. Your requirements for your store have to be in-line with the capabilities of the connection and ERP system. Once that is established, branching out to other channels is then a lot easier. This data map is critical to your business, your ability to communicate with the various parties and to ensure that your understanding and theirs are on the same page of your expectations. That map, however, does need to be backed up with a proof of concept which is the next section’s discussion point.
Decide where your Financial reporting will be generated
Today, some ERP systems have their own financial reporting, but that does not mean your accountant can work with that system. If your accountant states that QuickBooks, Sage or Xero is their method of working with your information, then your ERP will need to show support to export it into that system. This, in turn, requires another connector to do this job with the same type of questions/evaluation that will be required.
For a quick comparison of Cloud Financial system capabilities, Netsuite has one available: https://www.netsuite.co.uk/portal/uk/landing/netsuite-compare-page.html
Evaluating the data flow and map
This exercise is rarely talked about, not because it is not important, but because it is not usually part of a commercial discussion of “yes this project can be done and we can do it”. It is not intended to omit the conversation, the exercise is proof that it will work all the while calculating the cost in both time, money and what is the return.
Setting up a “dummy store” with sample orders and dataset that you work with on a daily basis will be required. Things like long product descriptions, various order statuses, complex products, and options, etc.
Setting up a test account with the ERP partner/Connector will also be needed.
Initiating the first connection, and auditing the transfer will be the first step to see how things are brought over.
Adding records in the ERP (simulating a different channel), how will it affect your order.
Order statuses and notifications to customers to be verified.
Shipping information and data records to be updated.
There is a long list to check, your business processes will dictate every inch of what would need to be verified and will most likely end up with a Pro’s and Con’s list of that particular ERP partner vs their cost of doing business with them.
Shipping and Logistics
Last but not least, it is important to ensure support for being able to move the integration that you most likely have with your eCommerce platform in this are to the ERP platform. Given that all orders from all channels will be required to be fulfilled, the central location with the shipping partners (depending on shipping methods chosen by your clients) will need to be connected and that connection needs to support all the various information such as ship-date, cost, tracking number, etc.
Do not forget the RMA (returns) process and the logistics associated with the shipping/refund/order update in your evaluation if it applies.
One of the key benefits of the ERP system is being able to manage your inventory all the while you are selling via various marketplaces. The “real-time” feature of the connection needs to put to the test with two orders from two locations being requested with one item left in inventory. While it may not happen often in your business, it can happen and these orders can be “orphaned”, unfulfilled or be out of a process such that you now have an issue.
ERP’s such as Brightpearl, Veeqo or NetSuite which are well established, have their core capabilities well established, as well as their integration partners. Inventory management is their core capability with trends, profit pools and all the various key information on reports that help you drive your business is available.
Conclusion and your return on investment
While you will see the benefits of expanding into various marketplaces while maintaining a single inventory will seem like an obvious way forward, the costs associated with better tools and automation in saving time to scale your operation needs to be evaluated. Having done the exercise and homework in doing your research, a reasonable cost assessment can be made. If the costs justify your next step in business expansion and automation, we have seen many businesses take this next step and enjoy a strong success forward.