5 Fatal Errors with Interfaces and Connections in E-Commerce Projects

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Actually, the emphasis here is clearly on actually, e-commerce projects are something wonderful. When companies dip their first toe into the big pond called e-commerce, it’s usually a small step into an insanely big, new and exciting future. In one fell swoop, thanks to an online store or digitization in sales, a multitude of problems a company deals with can be solved. New customers and sales can also be generated. E-commerce is an insanely brilliant thing that, in my opinion, will catapult all companies in USA (and, of course, the rest of the world) forward in business terms. E-commerce rocks – or does it?

As much as I rave about e-commerce, e-commerce meets with a certain rejection in some companies. The reasons are complex, no question. But one reason is cited more often than average in many companies. Those darn IT requirements and the complexity that comes with IT projects. At the end of the day, no matter what the service provider promises, it still ends up being more expensive, it takes longer and it doesn’t have the promised success. If you order a Ferrari at the beginning, you get a skateboard at the end. Well, at least it gets you from A to B – if the route is short.

Our impression in e-commerce projects is that complexity is often created in places where no complexity is actually necessary. Presumably, the problems are not created consciously at management level – but they are created nonetheless. The introduction or replacement of an existing web store or e-commerce platform is complex enough. So there is no need to generate additional complexity in places.

Interfaces in e-commerce projects (unfortunately almost always) create complexity

At which points does complexity arise that, in our opinion, would not be necessary? Quite often in the area of interfaces! Because companies love it when all software is interconnected and data flows back and forth automatically. This often results in ideas that look like the following:

  • The web store must “talk” to the ERP.
  • The ERP must exchange data with the PIM and the webshop
  • The CRM is the brain regarding customer data, this must flow into the webshop and the ERP
  • The helpdesk solution has to be basically connected to the CRM and the webshop
  • … and by the way, we still have a bunch of legacy applications that also need to talk to the new e-commerce world

Sounds complicated? It is! That’s why we would like to clear up the five most common myths, misconceptions and misinformation regarding interfaces in e-commerce projects.

Mistake 1: Every system must be tethered

Let’s start with the classic. Classic because this requirement actually appears in most e-commerce projects. For many companies, there is a misconception that all systems must be connected and automatically exchange data. Especially when you start into e-commerce, you actually need the opposite approach. Moving data automatically between systems from A to B, because that’s what the textbook says, doesn’t really help in practice.

As a first step, become aware of the amount of data. How many orders, products, customers, categories, product groups, etc. do you have? The second step is about the frequency of changes or updates. Let’s say you have a portfolio of 500 items, how often does it change? Does this happen 1-2 times a year or 1-2 times a day? And finally, what changes? Is it always just the price that changes, or is it a variety of attributes or the entire product that changes?

So you need an understanding of how many data changes are really flowing through your infrastructure – and then you should consciously decide which adjustments or transfers you take over manually, if necessary, and at which points you really need an interface. I have often seen an order interface implemented for tens of thousands of dollars that then handled 5 transactions a day. 5 orders a day, that is about 150 a month! Of course you should not slay everything with manual labor. But find the balance when manual exports / imports or manual data maintenance is viable – and when not.

Mistake 2: We need middleware

The call for middleware, such as Mulesoft from Salesforce, always goes out relatively quickly. Because when several systems are linked, middleware is usually the cleanest and most secure way. At this point we have to say “usually”, because in the end it always depends on your individual project and the given framework conditions.

So don’t let IT or a service provider mislead you. Often enough, you don’t need middleware, even if so-called point-to-point integrations may not always be the cleanest way. However, if you are just starting out in e-commerce, the introduction of middleware means an additional project. Do you want to open up more construction sites in such situations, or do you want to get to your goal quickly and efficiently?

So question the need for middleware, and if necessary, don’t introduce it in parallel with the first e-commerce project.

Mistake 3: All data must be transferred

Misconception #3 follows on from the first. No, you don’t have to connect all systems to each other. Likewise, you don’t have to keep all data in all systems. What is meant by this? Let’s assume we are talking about customer data. In the web store, much less detail is usually needed than in the CRM system. However, IT projects tend to always drift into the perfect world. In this example, you would look at the customer data record from the leading system, i.e. the CRM, and try to transfer it one-to-one to the web store.

Since you usually need much less data in the web store than is available in the CRM, this approach makes little sense. It doesn’t matter to you (from the web store’s point of view) when the customer last called you. Possible service orders may also not be important to you in the web store. So why should you transfer the entire database?

This approach is often the result of inadequate coordination between the various project participants. But do the colleagues from the CRM area really know what you have in mind for your online store and which data is absolutely necessary? Probably not … So you just get the whole package. Lack of communication and coordination are then compensated for with an expensive, complex and also error-prone approach.

Mistake 4: The service provider is the professional, he does it!

Sit back, drink coffee and let the service provider do it. In many areas this works, for example when creating screen designs, functions or the setup of your webshop. In these topics, service providers can shine and just take a hell of a lot of work off your hands. Unfortunately, this only works to a limited extent when it comes to connecting your systems; here, it’s more your turn, or rather, your knowledge is required.

The complexity of interface projects within an e-commerce project often results from the fact that data is unstructured or of poor quality. Many data problems have grown over years and were originally not a problem.

You know this and know the internal, unofficial rules – a service provider does not. He can’t see and grasp it at first glance. Interface projects always drag on when workarounds have to be created repeatedly due to poor data quality, many exceptions and ignorance of the situation. Then, not only is an enormous amount of time lost, but a trial & error mentality also begins to prevail, which you do not actually want in your project. It is therefore all the more important that you yourself are heavily involved in the topics of data, interfaces and processes, and can thus manage your service providers in a meaningful way.

Mistake 5: Everything must be available immediately and in real time

The price changes in the ERP system – and bang – in the next second, of course, it must also be available in the webshop. The web store takes an order and in the next moment it must be completely processed in the ERP system. Of course, short process runtimes are simply cool – but they also increase complexity and costs. So always ask yourself where real-time transmission is necessary and where it is just nice-to-have. Of course, a customer is happy when he receives an order confirmation immediately. But will this customer immediately cancel the order if he only receives the confirmation five minutes later?

Projects often fail to strike the right balance here. Be as efficient as the customer expects or accepts. But don’t try to become the Amazon of your industry. Always soberly compare costs and benefits and be content with a smaller solution at the beginning. Especially if you are entering e-commerce, it is important that you act quickly, pragmatically and efficiently, e.g. with an MVP. You can then still improve performance by a few percentage points.

Conclusion: Problems in e-commerce projects are often self-inflicted

Now that you’ve read the five misconceptions, you may be wondering what this means for you specifically. In our experience, many companies have no desire for IT projects. We can subscribe to this prejudice without any ifs and buts. The reasons are cost, complexity and stress. It is also true that in e-commerce projects, the stress level rises above all when additional systems are connected. Sometimes it even explodes!

But – and this is our experience from the last 15 years in e-commerce – the complexity in this area is often self-generated. People want to create the all-encompassing solution and magic bullet, automate every process, cover every edge case and realize everything at a perfect level. A noble approach, but one that then leads to stress, complexity and the explosion of costs.

Just start a level or two smaller. Then, when you can show the first big successes in e-commerce, you can also further optimize and professionalize your processes and interfaces.

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