Modern businesses have many different systems which all operate at once. They require software to run their online customer-facing storefronts where they accept orders, payments and other transactions, as well as enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to manage and fulfill those orders in the back-end. In cases of small order volume, communication between systems can be done manually, but more often, they need to be properly connected to guarantee complete data integrity.
In a properly integrated environment, the bidirectional flow of information results in a significant boost in efficiency of the business, because inventory levels automatically update in two places: in the customer-facing storefront as a product gets added to the inventory (which improves real-time customer experience), as well as in the back-end as the product is sold on the site (which decreases workforce burden and increases operation effectiveness).
Furthermore, an integrated ERP removes the need for manual data entry, which minimizes the risk of human errors such as entering wrong customer address data or noting incorrect inventory values. Human error is a good reason to consider ERP integration even when operating a small business, where automation might not be needed due to order volume, but can prevent incidents with customers or suppliers, which might lead to loss of revenue.
Having an integrated ERP also implies a single source of truth for the entire company, which again decreases workforce burden, especially from the perspective of department communication. Since people from all relevant departments can access business data in real-time, there is less need for detailed reports from one department to another. For instance, the accounts team would not have to wait for the marketing and sales teams to receive revenue details, but could access relevant data directly.
Performing ERP integration is far from a trivial task. Below are some common issues and challenges when trying to integrate an ERP into a web application.
A common challenge when integrating an ERP into a web application is deciding which ERP to select in the first place. As business objectives vary from one business to another, so are different ERPs better suited for different businesses. It is important to select an ERP which aligns with the company’s business goals and operations. For example, if we are running an online shop, we might want to look at an ERP provider which caters to eCommerce specifications. Alternatively, if the business operates in a variety of areas and has any custom requirements, it is best to focus on ERPs that can accommodate such needs via a custom interface or API.
During the integration process we are essentially connecting different types of applications together. Problems can arise when different applications wish to exchange data, but expect or provide it in different formats. Furthermore, modern applications usually come with their own application programming interfaces (APIs) which add another layer of complexity on top of the existing data synchronization. We need to take special care to ensure our data is standardized across all applications, as well as that our APIs accept the transfer of data from one another.
ERP integration naturally requires a deeper, more sophisticated data-mapping process. It is a common mistake to introduce an ERP integration in a single large move. Due to the complexity of modern ERP applications, it is much safer to deploy new integrations incrementally, in smaller contained parts. We can allocate preparation time for each part of the integration process, during which we can perform relevant business data cleaning, remove duplicated and inconsistent data points and acclimate users to new software with introductory training. We can even construct testing and simulation scenarios to ensure each step of the integration was successful and the software in place is correctly configured. Afterwards, we can fine-tune configurations based on test results and user feedback.
Since the ERP software stores critical business data, such as client information, it is necessary that the connection between the application and the ERP is secure, otherwise business data might become compromised. Researchers report a noticeable increase in cyber attacks against various ERP systems in recent years. Understanding good practices and system vulnerabilities in the context of ERP integration is important, since one exposed user credential can result in loss of business, or worse. It is best to fortify system architecture against exploits in the testing phase of the integration process. Additional security measures, such as identity management software, a strict employee device policy and across-the-board encryption are also worth considering.
As a business expands, employees are often faced with new and previously unused types of data. The company might change or replace some of its business processes, which can result in new types of data points, data fields or even entire databases. Such changes need to be reflected in the ERP system as well, otherwise we run the risk integration failure.
It is also important to schedule periodic maintenance updates with the ERP provider, to ensure the ERP application is running smoothly, without any technical issues. Keeping the ERP application updated prevents bugs from compromising the system as well as making it less vulnerable to hackers, viruses or even corporate espionage.
It should also be noted that while ERP integration can result in maintenance problems down the line, the opposite is possible as well. With the right integration system, a business can easily expand their existing configuration and connect new modules to their ERP system, resulting in increased flexibility when choosing the right tools for their business.
Finally, integrating an ERP with the rest of the system can significantly reduce employee training time. Most employees will only need to access data via the ERP. This considerably reduces the number of software applications the employees need to be acquainted with.
Even when taking all of the above issues into consideration, integrating an ERP can come with problems and takes considerable effort. Nevertheless, the advantages far outweigh the initial resource investment, reflecting in higher workforce productivity, client satisfaction and revenue generation. Thank you for reading our story. If you want to drink a (real or virtual) coffee together and discuss it, we’re only just a click away.