How does ERP fit with e-commerce?
August 10, 2009
ERP vendors were not prepared for the onslaught of e-commerce. ERP is complex and not intended for public consumption. It assumes that the only people handling order information will be your employees, who are highly trained and comfortable with the tech jargon embedded in the software. But now customers and suppliers are demanding access to the same information your employees get through the ERP system￢ﾀﾔthings like order status, inventory levels and invoice reconciliation￢ﾀﾔexcept they want to get all this information simply, without all the ERP software jargon, through your website.
E-commerce means IT departments need to build two new channels of access in to ERP systems￢ﾀﾔone for customers (otherwise known as business-to-consumer) and one for suppliers and partners (business-to-business). These two audiences want two different types of information from your ERP system. Consumers want order status and billing information, and suppliers and partners want just about everything else.
Traditional ERP vendors are having a hard time building the links between the Web and their software, though they certainly all realize that they must do it and have been hard at work at it for years. The bottom line, however, is that companies with e-commerce ambitions face a lot of hard integration work to make their ERP systems available over the Web. For those companies that were smart￢ﾀﾔor lucky￢ﾀﾔenough to have bought their ERP systems from a vendor experienced in developing e-commerce wares, adding easily integrated applications from that same vendor can be a money-saving option. For those companies whose ERP systems came from vendors that are less experienced with e-commerce development, the best￢ﾀﾔand possibly only￢ﾀﾔoption might be to have a combination of internal staff and consultants hack through a custom integration.
But no matter what the details are, solving the difficult problem of integrating ERP and e-commerce requires careful planning, which is key to getting integration off on the right track.
One of the most difficult aspects of ERP and e-commerce integration is that the Internet never stops. ERP applications are big and complex and require maintenance. The choice is stark if ERP is linked directly to the Web￢ﾀﾔtake down your ERP system for maintenance and you take down your website. Most e-commerce veterans will build flexibility into the ERP and e-commerce links so that they can keep the new e-commerce applications running on the Web while they shut down ERP for upgrades and fixes.
The difficulty of getting ERP and e-commerce applications to work together￢ﾀﾔnot to mention the other applications that demand ERP information such as supply chain and CRM software￢ﾀﾔhas led companies to consider software known alternately as middleware and EAI software. These applications act as software translators that take information from ERP and convert it into a format that e-commerce and other applications can understand. Middleware has improved dramatically in recent years, and though it is difficult to sell and prove ROI on the software with business leaders￢ﾀﾔit is invisible to computer users￢ﾀﾔit can help solve many of the biggest integration woes that plague IT these days.