If you’re syncing a web store with SAP ERP, a fundamental problem arises: Most ecommerce platforms are built as standalone entities. From a data perspective, the ecommerce platform wants to be the system of record, the “one true truth” for your business data.
The trouble is, a company whose business data lives in SAP ERP doesn’t need another software system acting as “one true truth.” One system must be the master, and the other system must act as an extension of the first. One way to solve this problem is to sync ecommerce and SAP with middleware—but in our opinion, it’s too difficult (and expensive) to rebuild SAP business rules in both middleware and ecommerce.
At Corevist, our solution is a direct, real-time integration between SAP and ecommerce. Of course, that’s a complex undertaking in its own right (which is why we offer a prebuilt, configurable integration).
But if you’re looking to build a customer-friendly, SAP-integrated web channel, here’s what it takes:
1. You need to display real-time inventory / ATP data from SAP
This is arguably the biggest problem in most SAP ecommerce solutions. If the solution architecture depends on middleware and batch updates to sync the two systems, then inventory data may not be accurate.
What’s more, if you want to display personalized ATP (available to promise) quantities, you’ll have to replicate the business rules which calculate those quantities in middleware and ecommerce.
This is why we recommend a direct, real-time integration to SAP. The idea is for ecommerce to function as a “window” into your SAP system, displaying your customer’s personalized ATP quantity in real time, right in the web store.
We’ve covered this topic in detail here: Understanding ATP in SAP.
2. You need to display personalized pricing from SAP
If you’re going to get customers to adopt ecommerce (and stop calling customer service to place orders), you need to show them accurate pricing in the web channel. Otherwise, ecommerce is essentially useless. Yikes!
Since pricing rules in SAP don’t change very often, a middleware/batch update architecture may be satisfactory for showing a customer’s personalized pricing. However, if you have more complex rules around pricing (for example, quantity scaled discounts, limited-time pricing promotions, minimum quantities, etc.), you’ll have to account for this complexity in middleware and ecommerce.
That’s why we recommend a direct, real-time integration to SAP. If your web channel acts as a window into your SAP business rules (as Corevist Commerce does), you don’t have to rebuild that complexity—rather, you can display it in real time on the web. It just makes things simpler, and it ensures you’re always offering the best user experience you can for your customers.
3. You need to be able to post 100% error-free orders to SAP
An SAP-integrated web channel shouldn’t cause more problems than it solves. If it’s making you easier-to-buy-from on the front end, but adding tons of work for your operations team (i.e. requiring manual order entry into SAP), something is broken.
The key is a real-time order posting integration to SAP. There are two main functions you need to cover:
Order simulation—You need to run the simulated order against the relevant SAP business rules to see if there are any SAP errors in the order. The most common problems which customers introduce to their orders are invalid SKUs and invalid product quantities. (Note: This is why we recommend returning error messaging from SAP, directly to the web channel user. That way, they can correct their order before placing it—which eliminates the need for manual follow-up from your Customer Service department.)
Order posting—Obviously, the order needs to get posted to SAP. The goal here is to reduce or eliminate errors and manual call-backs to customers. If your web channel honors all your SAP business rules (as Corevist Commerce does), you’ll only get 100% SAP-ready orders posted from ecommerce to SAP.
4. You need to be able to track orders
Customers want to see their order history in your web channel. We’ve come to expect this functionality as consumers, so it’s only natural that your customers would bring this expectation to your SAP-integrated web channel.
To meet your customers’ order tracking needs, you’ll need to cover these 2 bases:
Order history from SAP—You need to give your customers visibility into all orders they’ve ever placed. NOTE: Since their relationship with you almost certainly predates ecommerce, it’s a good idea to show ALL orders on their account, regardless of order channel.
Integration with major shipping carriers—You need to give your customers real-time visibility into the status of a package after it leaves your warehouse. That means linking out to updates from the major carriers you do business with.
5. You need to enable accounts receivable interaction with SAP
Here’s the funny thing about ecommerce: you actually need more than just ecommerce functionality to make it work.
Back to that Amazon analogy. Amazon allows consumers to manage their accounts via self-service. Again, that’s the expectation which customers will bring to your web channel. But for many companies on SAP ERP, particularly manufacturers, account management is complex.
To serve your customers well, your web channel needs to offer total self-service account management. That means things like:
Open invoice display—Your customers need the ability to view open invoices and open items. You need to get that data from SAP to ecommerce in real time.
Real-time credit standing—If you use credit limits to determine whether customers can go on placing orders with you, then you may need to display real-time credit standing from SAP.
Open invoice payment—If you want to give your customers 100% control of their accounts, you should consider allowing them not only to view open invoices, but to select invoices and pay them down online.
Not every business will want to give customers this much power. However, in our experience building solutions for manufacturers, we find that this functionality helps make the web channel “sticky.” The more your customers can do in the web channel, and the easier it is, the more they’ll come back to it again and again.
As you’re defining your SAP ecommerce architecture, put your customer first. What will delight them and keep them coming back for more? These 5 areas are key to a great user experience, and your plan needs to account for them. While it’s tricky to meet your customers’ needs in the digital age, you can do it—just use these 5 areas to structure your plan.
About the author
George Anderson is the Communications Manager for Corevist, a 4-time Inc. 5000 winner that empowers manufacturers to conduct business online through managed B2B e-commerce, customer account portals, field sales portals, and more.
The Corevist suite leverages SAP ERP data in real time for accurate and seamless user experience. As a result, Corevist clients become easier to do business with, embrace the digital shift, and reduce the phone/fax/email burden on Customer Service—all with no additional IT investment. Corevist’s NetWeaver-certified integration to SAP is live on Day 1 and tailored to a client’s unique needs within 90 days. Corevist is a global company with clients in the US, UK, EU, and Canada.