Integrating Back Office And Online Systems Guide

Integration Solutions for Web Store and Back Office

The integration solution that is right for your business will depend very much on the systems you already have in place.

Existing web store and back office

If you have a web store that you built or acquired from one vendor and back office software that came from another source, it is quite likely they will not be able to communicate easily.

  • If your web store and back office use open-source protocols, such as XML or EDI, you could use off-the-shelf software.
  • If not, you may have to employ a specialist software firm to create an interface between them (middleware). Have a look at bespoke integration for more details on this.
  • The other option is to use an ASP.

Starting from scratch

  • If you are starting a web store from scratch, be sure you acquire software that includes built-in back office functionality. Take a look at back office systems.
  • Conversely, if you are acquiring a back office system make sure it will work with whatever front end web store solution you plan to put in place. See web stores systems for more details.
  • Or, if your budget stretches to it, you could consider a fully-fledged integrated system – have a look at Fully integrated systems.

1. Off-the-shelf solutions

The simplest way of integrating web store and back office is to use off-the-shelf software for the integration. This will only work if your web store and back office solutions use open-source protocols, such as EDI or XML. Actinic Business and products like Oracle Small Business Suite, IBM Websphere, and Microsoft’s Retail Management System, would also be a good solution for businesses setting up web trading, and conventional commerce, from scratch. These systems will support a proprietary front-end web store and will work with popular back office products such as Microsoft Access and leading accounting packages. All these products would be suitable for small to medium-sized businesses looking to rationalise their operations. Although the simplest of solutions, these software packages will require expert programming assistance.

2. Bespoke integration

The costs and complexity of such an interface vary hugely – depending on the volume of traffic your website handles and what legacy systems you have in place, for example. It is a question of analysing the systems and processes you already have and considering how much you’ve spent on them, how well they work for you and how willing you are to move to a different solution. This type of interface is known as middleware and would be most suitable for organisations that see their Internet-based trading activities as increasingly important to their overall business strategy. There are many companies who provide bespoke integration services – type back office integration – into any search engine.

Providers of the integration software for bespoke systems generally fall into two categories – either they provide back office systems with ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) functionality to which a web store front-end may be bolted on, or they supply web stores which may work with certain types of back office systems (although many suppliers insist you source the entire solution from them).

If you do commission bespoke software – for web store front ends, back office systems, or the middleware that allows them to communicate, you should always ask that it be platform independent (that is it will work on any of the major operating systems such as Windows or Linux) and written to open standards – which generally means employing XML (extensible mark-up language) or EDI (Electronic Data Interchange). That way the software will be able to work with other applications in future – even if your relationship with the provider comes to an end.

You should also consider whether you want the two parts of your system to communicate in real time, or through batch processing. Real time communication means that the web store can search the back office for data instantaneously. Batch processing (which is cheaper) means that the back office software and the web store communicate at regular intervals – customers may have to wait a little to get the information or order confirmation they were seeking but most online customers will accept a delay of up to two hours before receiving an e-mail dealing with their requests.

3. Application Service Provider (ASP)

This actually involves renting a web-store through the ASP and isn’t really true integration, but simply XML messaging back and forth to your in-house systems. An ASP solution may be adequate for small and medium-sized web trading operations, but if the volume of sales grows it may not provide sufficient integration. Since you are basically having the integration managed for you, this is one of the least complex solutions, though you will need to reassure yourself that the ASP can deliver what it claims – ask to talk to some existing customers for reference. Cost-wise an ASP-rented web store that can communicate with your back office is likely to run somewhere between £15,000-£20,000 per annum.

4. Back office systems – with bolt-on front ends.

System vendors, who provide accounting and business operations packages, can support web store front ends through interfaces and can also work with some other legacy software you may already have in place, such as your accounting package. Costs will vary according to the functionality you are after – but will be in the tens of thousands. This could be a good solution if you are starting from scratch and have no back office systems you wish to retain.

5. Web store systems – with bolt-on back ends.

Although many web store software solutions will claim some integrated back office functionality, the back office side of things is generally more complex than the web interface, so the solution you will probably arrive at is integration if you have back office systems in place that you want to retain. Alternatively, some storefront vendors have developed back office modules for procurement, content management, and supply chain management. Such solutions start from around £15,000 and are suitable for small to medium sized business with moderate e-commerce requirements.

6. Fully integrated systems

For a fully-fledged purpose-built bespoke e-commerce solution that comes with integral back office and web store functionality, the cost will start from around £100,000. Fully integrated systems are best for businesses with complex and multiple e-commerce requirements, which anticipate major volumes of trade through their websites.

See Further Help and Advice for contact details of the products and companies mentioned.

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