(This article was originally published on June 20th, 2013. It has been updated for accuracy and completeness.)
With the growth of online shopping, many retailers are setting aggressive goals for their online sales. To hit those numbers though, there are many steps that retailers must take to attract and keep more customers. Many will focus on the frontend design and content of their Magento website so it’s easy to find, shop, and checkout.
But what about your backend processes? Are you operating as efficiently as you can? How much data are you moving between Magento and your ERP system such as Microsoft Dynamics Great Plains (GP)? Your business processes can have just as much positive (or negative) impact on your customer experience as the design of your website.
Growth requires scaling and your old processes that once seemed efficient might need to be revamped to hit those lofty sales goals. In this article, we’ll look at signs you need to integrate your Magento webstore for operational efficiency and how to pick the best integration solution for your business.
Signs You Need eCommerce Integration
Are you growing more frustrated with your operations than ever before? Without integration for their Magento storefront, merchants tend to experience the same growing pains.
Which of these problems do you experience daily?
- You keep overselling.
- Your wasting staff members’ times on manual data entry.
- You’re shipping orders late or wrong.
- Your online and offline experiences aren’t consistent.
- Your product information is inaccurate and messy.
- You don’t have visibility into your suppliers’ data.
- You’re spending more time in customer service fixing your own errors.
These are some of the reasons that drive merchants to integrate Magento with their ERP like Microsoft Dynamics GP. Because your systems “can’t talk to each other”, you must rely on manual data entry to move data between your systems. We’ve had customers report taking 40+ hours a month to hand key critical data like items and inventory updates alone.
Manually entering data slows down your processes and is prone to human mistakes. A wrong character could mean shipping the wrong SKU or to the wrong address. It could also mean lagging inventory updates which could result in missed sales or overselling. No matter which of these happens, it’s a poor experience for your customers.
The good news is that integration between Magento and Microsoft Dynamics GP can help in all these areas!
How to Evaluate Microsoft Dynamics GP and Magento Integration Solutions
While eCommerce integration helps solves many of these problems, it only does so when you choose the best integration approach for your business. Mismanaged projects can end up being too complicated, time consuming and waste thousands of your dollars without ever experiencing a solution that just works.
To help you evaluate your integration options, we’ll compare risks, benefits, and cost of two main integration approaches – custom and middleware.
You don’t want to wait until you’re constantly losing web orders to realize your integration approach was the wrong decision!
Custom eCommerce Integration
When you’re first evaluating options, your first instinct might be to turn to custom-built integration. Unless you’re capable of tackling the project in-house, custom integration tends to be offered by your web agency, software consultant or another vendor that may or may not have expertise in integration. You’re familiar with the vendor, they know your business already, and you like the price tag? So, what’s the harm in letting them build a custom integration for you?
Talking to hundreds of merchants, we’ve learned there are some common risk that come up repeatedly with custom-built integration solutions. Before you go down this path, consider the following:
Is there a single person running your entire project?
Will your project be delegated to a single developer within the company? If so, this means that one person will build, maintain, and support the entire solution. This often happens to integration projects because of limited resources.
What happens when that developer goes on vacation, becomes unable to work or leaves your vendor’s company?
In one horror story, we worked with a merchant who thought they had an “automated solution”. Actually, a lone developer was moving all $85 million in transactions at night by himself! Unsurprisingly, the merchant’s integration routinely broke causing them to consistently lose web orders. What a mess!
How well do they know Magento AND Microsoft Dynamics GP?
Vendors with limited or no integration expertise tend to write custom code for each of their integration projects. They don’t typically leverage an integration platform with pre-built connectors.
There’s a serious learning curve for understanding the requirements for how each of your systems receives data. You must understand what fields of data must be read or written to. You must understand what business rules and processes to accommodate. It’s not something you want someone learning on the job.
For example, when integrating Magento to Microsoft Dynamics GP, a common requirement is the need to syndicate product assortment to the web. This means inserting data from GP into Magento. The challenge is that how item data is used in Magento is completely different than GP. In an ERP like GP, item data is primarily used for inventory management and GAAP accounting practices (an accounting/operational focus). In Magento, it’s used as web content and to generate orders (an eCommerce/marketing focus). There are many steps an integrator must take to transfer and translate item data between these two systems.
How familiar is the vendor with the nuances of each of your endpoint systems?
Will your integration hold up over time?
When your integration doesn’t account for all the scenarios where data is missing or imperfect, it can seriously mess with your operations. Something as simple as a price on an online order being different from the price in your ERP can continually slow down your processes. You’ll get an invalid order and will have to contact and wait for Support to fix the issue every time.
Does your integration allow your business to scale?
A hardcoded, custom solution can tie you to the implementing vendor forever. When you want to change software or add new sales channel, it’ll require your provider to start your integration over from scratch since each system is tied directly together.
How much will this cost you?
Without a practice built around integration, vendors writing custom code can be pricey since they’re one-off projects. We’ve seen clients quoted at $25,000-$30,000 for integration between Magento and GP. This initial cost also doesn’t include any ongoing costs down the road. If there are bugs, updates, or changes needed for your integration, you’ll have to pay more for those too. In the long-run, these custom projects can end up costing you more than expected.
Don’t box yourself in with a solution that you can outgrow, especially since the purpose of integration is to help you scale processes. Important questions to ask your potential vendor implementing your integration project is who’s behind your project and how are they connecting your systems?
Unless you have truly complex integration needs, like integrating many custom apps on top of Magento and Dynamics GP, you probably can’t justify undertaking a custom solution.
Middleware eCommerce Integration Solution
On the flip side of custom integration, merchants also have the option to use a middleware integration platform. These types of solutions have a “hub” that sits between Magento and Microsoft Dynamics GP to automate data transactions between them. The hub manages the connection, data transformation, and orchestration of data between your systems. Ideally, the platform should utilize pre-built connectors that connect your systems through the hub.
Middleware integration providers usually have built a core practice around integrating systems like Magento and Dynamics GP. You’ll benefit from a team that supports multiple integration customers. Also, with extensive experience in integration, you should be more likely to find a partner that understands the ins and outs of Magento and Microsoft Dynamics GP integration.
The challenge is that there are several middleware integration providers to choose from. It can be overwhelming to compare. Here are a few areas to consider that will set platforms apart from one another.
Are they designed for eCommerce and retail?
Not all middleware integration providers available have a focus in retail and eCommerce. Just like you want to work with a certified Magento agency, you’ll want to work with an integration provider that can define a solution that creates a competitive shopping experience for your customers – not just an API to API data sync.
How often do they sync data?
Real-time data processing is crucial for some of your daily tasks. For example, it ensures orders aren’t placed for out of stock items or promotional pricing isn’t available longer than it should be. Are they syncing data as real-time as Magento and Microsoft Dynamics GP allow or is it in batches once a day or longer?
Are there any self-help tools?
Self-help tools can provide abilities like building or changing your own data maps (how fields from each system are connected) between Magento and Microsoft Dynamics GP. If you have the right resources in-house, this allows you to take greater control over your integration. You won’t have to request or wait for the provider to make changes for you, which can also cost additional money.
How much visibility do I have into my data?
Your platform should verify that data is BOTH sent and received from both Magento and Dynamics GP. A detailed audit of your data should give visibility into each of your transactions so your customer service team can trace the path of an order through your systems, for example. It should also provide tooling to highlight the failures or exceptions that need to be addressed, instead of burying them among the much larger summary of successful transactions.
What happens when one of my systems goes offline for any reason?
Most retailers have experienced the pains of when one of their critical systems crashes. It always seems to happen during the most important times too, like a flash sale or holidays. One major advantage of a middleware platform is that it should be able to store or throttle data such as orders until the system comes back online. This ensures you won’t lose any orders or customer data during these downtimes.
Who maintains the platform and connectors?
If your provider is a SaaS or IPaaS platform, they should maintain their platform and connectors on a regular basis. This mean they’ll take care of security updates, bugs or any other system updates that affect your integration between Magento and Dynamics GP.
How much will this cost me?
For SaaS and IPaaS solutions, customers pay a monthly subscription fee for hosting, maintenance, and support of your solution on their platform. You may also need to pay a one-time implementation fee for them to set up and connect your systems. Monthly subscription rates can vary from $100 to $1,000+ and implementation fees from $0 to $10,000+. You need to understand what capabilities you’re receiving and what you’re paying for.
Integration between Magento and Microsoft Dynamics GP can be a critical step for your business. It can help revamp and automate your processes so you don’t have to rely on manual data entry. The question is what approach you’ll take to connect your systems. With the right vision, technology, and partner though, you’ll be able to pick the best approach for your business.
If you think a middleware integration platform sounds like a good fit, learn more about how nChannel integrates Magento and Microsoft Dynamics GP.
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