Basics of Retail Process Integration
You’ve designed and produced an exciting new product, and your marketing team has generated a lot of buzz. Orders have begun to flood in, but how prepared are your operations for fulfilment, and will you be able to track, analyze, and react to sales data?
Quality products and marketing savvy will only get you so far in retail. Without a highly coordinated operational chain, your success will be short-lived. This coordination arises from business process integration, which produces a seamless experience for your personnel as well as your customers. With current and reliable information on inventory, customers, sales, deliveries, and the rest of your business processes, your staff will be ready to offer excellent customer service, and your decision makers will be able to plan for and adapt to sales trends and customer demand with pinpoint accuracy.
Different businesses use one of two contrasting approaches for integrating internal processes. The first technique involves an in-depth analysis of each business process, all of which are then re-implemented (usually after some optimization) in a single application. This application is usually an ERP platform. The second technique keeps the organization’s existing business software in place, and instead of combining business processes in one application, connector software (often called “middleware” or an “enterprise service bus” by vendors) passes information back and forth between your separate business systems to ensure that they’re always in sync.
Both methods have their own merits and challenges, and choosing an experienced integration partner is the best way to ensure that you end up selecting the method that aligns best with your business objectives. This article, however, focuses on ERP integration using the first method. We’ll look at what happens when your business is not integrated, and discuss a few pros and cons related to integration.
Drawbacks of Unintegrated Operations
Keeping your internal business processes running separately puts severe restrictions on organization-wide operations. Here are a few examples:
- Managing processes using several separate systems requires considerable manual transcription between them. Allocating personnel to data entry is expensive and inefficient, not to mention highly prone to error.
- If your processes and departments aren’t talking to each other directly and instantly, your business will take a lot more time to react to changes of all kinds. If one of your suppliers fails to fulfill an order or a new retail trend emerges, a collection of unintegrated processes probably won’t inform you in time to avoid loss of business.
- Smooth business operations are essential for happy, loyal customers. If poor supply chain information disrupts your ability to fulfill customer orders, or your customer service department can’t forward complaints and suggestions to procurement, product development, or other relevant groups quickly enough, customers will begin to abandon your brand in droves.
Business Process Integration: Pros and Cons
It should be easy to understand now why process integration is so important for the health of your retail business. However, it is also critical that you understand the following pros and cons:
- By delivering accurate data in real time, integrated internal processes improve your ability to analyze, plan, forecast, and act intelligently in both the short and longer term.
- You eliminate a large amount of manual entry and transcription, which are the easiest ways to introduce errors into your data.
- Automatic communication between processes is also much faster. You won’t have to wait for end-of-day or weekly reports to discover your next opportunity or avoid emerging business risks.
- Without the need for continual human intervention, your internal communications become much more cost-effective, so you’ll improve your bottom line, too.
- Fewer applications equal simpler IT operations. You’ll spend less on maintenance and support, experience less downtime, and have a happier IT department that’ll have more time to process other technology-related requests.
- Most commercial ERP platforms will not meet the specific needs of your line of business – at least not straight out of the box. Be sure to choose an ERP solution that comes in industry-specific editions or supports industry-specific add-ons, so that your final ERP implementation conforms to the way your business operates instead of requiring your personnel to adapt to an inflexible software package.
- When it comes to ERP integration, the first few steps are the hardest. Because of the degree of complexity involved, a lot of planning and preparation goes into a successful ERP rollout. It is absolutely critical that you choose an ERP implementation partner that possesses a high degree of technical competence, yes, but is also intimately familiar with the needs of your industry. An implementation partner that has successfully deployed an ERP platform for an organization very much like your own will act more efficiently and encounter fewer unexpected challenges than one that isn’t as familiar with the way things work in your industry.
- Since integration means that each business process will be constantly talking to several others, many types of errors in one area can have serious effects on the entire ERP system. It pays to take extra care during the initial planning phases, double- and triple-checking to make sure everything is the way it should be. Once again, the right ERP partner can spell the difference between triumph and trouble.
There is little doubt that using an ERP platform to integrate and optimize internal business processes is highly valuable. While the process isn’t without its risks, a few simple precautions can help you bring your integration plans to fruition quickly and painlessly, allowing your business to grow and flourish.
For guidance on the best ERP-enabled process integration technique for your business, please contact Visionet Systems today to schedule your complimentary consulting session.