Many of our customers come to us frustrated with a lack of integration between their eCommerce website and their back office systems. Frustratingly for us, it seems that a lot of agencies are still touting integration services that don’t work or lack the back office expertise to truly understand the systems that they are working with.
We’ve always believed that integration is key to building a scalable eCommerce channel in any business. If you’re not integrated, ask yourself if your current manual processes could scale up to meet demand if you doubled or tripled your online orders? You could be one great marketing campaign away from disaster!
Having inherited, and successfully replaced, many bad integrations from other agencies, we’ve learned out to watch out for the “warning signs” that a provider may not quite have integration “joined up”.
Rule 1: Don't be the guinea pig
Everyone has to start somewhere, but do you really want your system to be the one that someone cuts their teeth on? Be wary of developers who see your integration requirements as an exciting new challenge or a chance for them to learn something new - look for a tried and tested provider who can demonstrate their capabilities.
Rule 2: Don't do the running for them
Any sensible agency will want to have a relationship with your back office provider. It’s essential for the agency to understand the configuration of the back office - and the more complex the back office platform, the more options there are. Your back office provider will appreciate the chance to ensure that whatever the agency is doing for you is going to work properly and be supportable in the long term too.
Don’t trust an agency that wants to keep your back office provider at arm’s length or, worse, doesn’t want to speak to them at all. Don’t put yourself in the middle either - whilst it is sensible to make an introduction and give your input, systems that work well together are implemented by teams that work well together. You're the client, not the system architect.
Keep in mind that most back office vendors have strict support arrangements too. They won’t support a system if it has been used or altered inappropriately. Which leads us neatly onto rule 3…
Rule 3: Never let them write directly to your back office database
Writing directly to your back office database will normally invalidate your support with the software vendor. Whilst your reseller or back office business partner may still be able to offer some support, they may not be able to access the upstream support from the vendor if the database has been tampered with.
Whilst this might seem harsh, it is common knowledge in the back office and ERP community - if your agency is telling you that they want to go down this route, it’s a strong warning signal that they don’t know the ERP space and probably haven’t integrated before.
Rule 4: Don't answer too many questions
If you knew the best way to integrate your eCommerce system to your back office, you’d have done it already! It’s normal for your agency to want to ask lots of questions about your business processes, procedures, and how you do things. It’s not normal for them to need you to hold their hand once they get to the technical end of things.
Steer clear of agencies who say they can integrate and then ask you what the options are. Some back-office vendors will only work with approved and accredited back office resellers and business partners, so their documentation is not readily available via Google.
If the agency you’re talking to is asking you if there’s an API, they haven’t done their homework, have probably broken Rule 2, and are probably about to suggest breaking Rule 5. Time to find somebody new to take this project on!
Rule 5: Don't trust third-party add-ons that someone has "found"
If there was one thing we could get on the statute book, it would be a law against unsupported third-party integration modules and plugins for eCommerce sites.
Just because somebody on the internet says their plugin will connect your CMS to your back office, doesn’t mean that they are doing it safely, securely, or in a way that won’t destroy your system.
Apply Rules 1 - 4 rigorously to any third party component that your agency suggests you use, especially if they haven’t used it before themselves. The same goes for desktop integration tools, CSV imports/exports, and anything that involves you running manual processes - these techniques belong in the past.
Does this sound familiar?
We’ve made integration a cornerstone of our business, have years of experience, numerous back office partners, access to our own ERP consultants, and write and maintain all our software in-house with a dedicated team.
If your integration has turned to frustration of late, we’re here to help.