By Simon Fonseka, Principal Architect at Tryzens
I am fascinated by how things work. I think my background in engineering helps me to take a hands-on approach to fully understand a system’s strengths and weaknesses. That said, understanding an existing system’s integration can be like unravelling a tangled ball of string, which is why we often advocate using middleware to enable a different, more flexible approach to supporting business processes.
The world of retail is changing fast with innovations emerging at an ever increasing pace to improve the consumer shopping experience and encourage people to buy more. As a consequence, consumers are spoilt for choice and more demanding. They want to be able to make purchases 24/7, 365 days a year, on any channel – whether online, in-store or on their mobile. They also want more information at their fingertips such as consumer reviews, sizing guides and mobile apps that improve the in-store experience.
Ecommerce offers the retail industry the opportunity to meet these increasing demands – get it right and you could rapidly accelerate sales on a global scale. New shopping trends take hold fast, so you need to think ahead. You want systems that can talk to each other and exchange data in real-time, so information is always accurate and consistent.
Many systems build up organically over time and are tied together by a wide variety of technical methods, often reflecting the technology of the day, and resulting in complex and inflexible business processes. File transfer, the use of extract, transform, load software, common database access and proprietary APIs are typical of the techniques in use. Some of these methods can be real-time, others may be batch processes which are time sensitive. For example, loading a new price/promotion file for the start of a promotional period has to be done before trading can start.
In the world of Enterprise Application Integration, middleware has a proven reputation as a method of simplifying the complexity of adding, changing and replacing applications within the overall IT architecture. Typical middleware solutions not only provide standard methods of integration for file transfers and web services, they also deliver out of the box connectors to databases, SAP systems, Salesforce, Microsoft SharePoint and many more.
In addition to connecting systems, middleware enables the transformation of information “on the fly” (as the data is moved), for example, to make sure that revenue in one system has the same format as sales in another system. This enables data within different systems to mean the same thing even though the representation of the data is different. It can also enrich information, for example, by calculating new data, such as net revenue = sales – discounts, to fill in information gaps, which can’t otherwise be sourced.
The three main benefits of eCommerce middleware are:
- Less effort to add a new application
- Flexibility to change connections, for example to replace a US stock control system with a European stock control system
- Easier to understand and maintain eliminating “tangled balls of string” and providing one way to connect applications
Improve Customer Service
With a middleware system you can know in real-time what your stock levels are and whether the items are in a warehouse or retail store, instead of having to wait for your systems to update at the end of the day. You can know the costs of promotions and distribution and are able to organise your resources to provide the best possible service to your customers on whatever channel they choose.
With middleware you can more easily combine offline and online purchase data to learn about the customer and how they behave with respect to your business. With a complete picture of their purchase history, interests and preferences you can tailor the shopping experience to the individual’s profile.
A middleware system will enable your back office systems to provide rapid support to new applications – quickly add new languages, scale to handle greater volumes of transactions, offer different payment methods and accounting systems, relocate warehouses and deliver goods faster.
Powerful Support for Multi-brands
While Tryzens doesn’t always recommend a middleware based architecture, in businesses where there is likely to be lot of change or uncertainty it makes a lot of sense. We work with a broad range of single to multi-brand retailers with massively contrasting integration requirements. Modern lightweight integration frameworks are not only enablers in delivering eCommerce solutions and realising your IT roadmap, they can be delivered as highly configurable, cost effective, small footprint, entry-level middleware solutions that can scale as your needs grow.
A flexible eCommerce system based on middleware may cost a little more initially, but it will be cheaper to maintain long-term and with improved customer service and the ability to adapt, you could quickly reap the rewards. Please get in touch if you want to learn more.