Technology providers offer several software solutions designed to solve specific business problems. While comprehensive ERP systems that integrate all of an organization’s internal processes are very worthwhile investments and make a huge difference to productivity and bottom line, their specialized nature makes them ill-suited for managing external processes. Purpose-built solutions for interacting with customers, vendors, and suppliers are much better options for external supply chain coordination.
Integrating upstream and downstream platforms
“Upstream” supply chain communication with suppliers and other vendors typically fall under the purview of electronic data interchange (EDI) solutions, while promoting and selling goods and services to customers downstream is usually handled by e-commerce platforms. Each type of solution provides the best range of features for its designated function, and follows its own set of standards, so it makes perfect sense for organizations to have all three types of systems in place.
However, using each of these business information systems in isolation will yield somewhat limited benefits. Your staff will still have to spend a considerable amount of time manually reconciling supplier orders with internal inventory, matching vendor purchase orders with accounting ledgers, sales reports with online customer transactions, and so on. With so many cross-platform interactions to manage each day, labor costs can skyrocket. Most successful organizations have turned to platform integration solutions to ease their operational workload and boost profitability.
ERP: Your digital command center
In a typical platform integration project, your internal ERP system is of central importance. Instead of attempting to connect your e-commerce and EDI systems directly, it makes much more sense to use your ERP platform as a central data store. This gives you a single, comprehensive view of your entire supply chain, and allows you to take advantage of your ERP suite’s advanced forecasting and analytics capabilities.
Cross-platform integration solutions keep your ERP, e-commerce, and EDI systems synchronized in near real-time, which will help your organization’s decision makers take immediate action when opportunities or issues arise. They won’t have to wait for end-of-day or weekly reports to discover supply-side issues, distribution center stock levels, or changes in customer purchasing behavior. Instead, a real-time digital dashboard will keep them informed about all relevant upstream, internal, and downstream performance metrics throughout the day.
E-Commerce integration enables omni-channel fulfillment
By directly linking e-commerce and ERP platforms, organizations not only benefit from real-time sales information, but are also able to automate order fulfillment and offer new fulfillment options. Companies that still manage their brick-and-mortar, online, mobile, and call center channels separately can’t compete with enterprises that have implemented omni-channel fulfillment. Omni-channel enterprises can ship online purchases to retail stores, accept online returns in-store, allow customers to reserve an item at a particular retail outlet, and much more. Customers value these transaction options very highly, and implementing these fulfillment possibilities make your brand much more attractive in their eyes.
Pre-built integration solutions Visionet’s CommerceLink smart connector expedite and simplify ERP-to-e-commerce integration. Instead of embarking on a custom development project that won’t yield results for 6 months or more, these integration products provide a cost-effective way of implementing omni-channel capabilities much sooner.
Integrated EDI functionality streamlines partner interaction
On the other end of your supply chain, integrating your EDI and ERP platforms can result in several synergistic advantages. Instead of looking up inventory or purchase order information in your ERP system and then manually keying in and sending this information, a unified system can initiate data transfers in just a few mouse clicks. Integration also makes it much easier to process bulk orders or schedule batch jobs.
More advanced EDI solutions like Visionet’s PartnerLink go beyond traditional EDI by providing support for multiple EDI-based and non-EDI data formats, and can even trigger data transfers when specific criteria are met. For example, you might want to automatically place an order with a supplier when stock levels in your distribution center fall below a predefined threshold.
E-Commerce to EDI: Connecting both ends of the supply chain
Even though both of these types of integration solution can be deployed independently, having both e-commerce and EDI integration in place can be immensely useful. It becomes possible to pass customer demand forecasts on to suppliers almost instantly, or even send them product orders for direct fulfillment. There are hundreds of potential ways to optimize your supply chain by keeping customers and vendors informed of each other’s activities over time.
In short, internal process integration is what ERP systems excel at, but that isn’t enough for a smoothly functioning supply chain. Keeping partner, operational, and customer information synchronized using platform integration solutions can eliminate delays, keep your supply chain lean and agile, and even provide support for new and innovative operating paradigms. For more information on cost-effective ways of implementing cross-platform integration, please contact Visionet Systems.