Our job as digital commerce consultants is to help guide our clients towards the best possible digital commerce architecture for their business. We guide our clients towards an architecture that aligns with their business goals and allows them to scale their business according to the leadership’s goals, without increasing operational costs at the same rate as growth.
While we are always here and ready to help you achieve this, many of our readers might not be interested in starting a dialogue with us just yet. That’s OK, and we still want to help you. Thinking in terms of your entire commerce architecture instead of just your ecommerce platform is still a fairly new concept to many, and there is much to learn – so let us help.
Here are some tips to get you started. This article will cover both the traditional ecommerce platform level thinking as well as the larger commerce architecture aspects of digital commerce.
Make your ecommerce platform better
Firstly, separate your mindset when thinking / discussing ecommerce platform versus ecommerce architecture. Your platform is an extension of your online business, allowing customers to interact, purchase and place orders. Your architecture is the greater digital ecosystem that connects all of the moving parts, such as your platform, marketing tools, and backend operations.
At the platform level, whether SaaS, open source or custom, you have some options that can be explored in order make your ecommerce platform work better for your business. The big ticket that you’re trying to achieve is systems integration, eliminate swivel chair processes and making the transfer of data between your ecommerce platform and the other software in your operation less manual and more automated.
Look for integration extensions
Most ecommerce platforms have a library of extensions that users can tap into to broaden functionality of the platform. Take a look through these libraries and see what you can find. The extension you need to integrate your platform with the other software you use to run your business may already be available to you and just needs to be installed and configured. Depending on your platform, these extensions may come at a price, but, it might be well worth it if it saves you time, resources and creates some level of automation.
Petition your platform for integrations that you need
If the integrations you need don’t yet exist, you may have some influence in whether it gets made. Contact a platform rep and let them know what you need. They may be able to give you more insight into current platform integration capabilities and any plans for improving them in the future. Also, reach out to the application team which you’re wanting to “connect” your platform with. They may fund and develop an add-on for the greater platform user base, or have one in the works.
Many platforms will also have some sort of community forum where users can submit ideas or features to make the platform better. Others within the community facing the same issues will hopefully find these ideas and up-vote them or be able to develop them for the community. Eventually, if the idea generates enough interest, the platform or a development group will take notice and work to implement the idea. It’s not a great system for getting immediate results, but it’s there and maybe the integration you need is nearing its interest threshold. Take a look at the BigCommerce Community Ideas and HubSpot Ideas pages to see what I mean.
Invest in the development of better integrations for your platform
Depending on the platform that you use, you may be able to work with the platform’s development teams or a third party software development company to actually build the reporting tools that you need specifically. In this case, your company would most likely be required to pay for part, or all, of the development costs. This can still be worthwhile in the long run.
Your ability to do this is potentially limited by a couple things, the platform itself and the data that is accessible.
A SaaS platform will typically keep the greater user base in mind during planning and development since the integration may be incorporated into the platform once development is complete. This may affect the scope of the work to be done and how much control you have over the development goals. Also, when a third party development company is being utilised, if all of the data required from the platform isn’t accessible via APIs (an API is basically a digital handshake where data transfers between two systems automatically), this could greatly affect your ability to have the new integration built. The available APIs are controlled by the SaaS platform so you may find limitations with what data you can move between tools freely.
Open source platforms, however, are a different story altogether. These platforms will give you the most freedom to innovate since you will have full access to the code and can manipulate it at will. You’re possibly limited by the platform’s software architecture and how easily data can be extracted from it, but some enterprise level open source ecommerce platforms, and example being Drupal, are pushing an API first initiative that puts the ability to integrate as a top priority.
A real-world example
We recently consulted on and developed a solution for USI Laminate, a leading manufacturer of lamination hardware and films, who wanted to bridge the gap between their commerce platform and a legacy ERP crucial to their business. There was no out-of-the-box extension available for this, but their open source ecommerce platform (Drupal) and their underlying architecture gave them the flexibility they needed to create a maintainable, custom solution built out of community supported building blocks.
The value of this integration comes through in this quote from Gregory M. Sottile, Ph.D., Director of Sales & Marketing at USI Laminating.
“We wanted to begin by protecting our revenue streams overall, and those associated with our digital platform. And there’s no doubt in our minds that the work Acro has done for us has provided that protection and has enable us to grow in a couple of dimension: one, we’re seeing growth in terms of revenue; we’re seeing growth in terms of new customer acquisition; we’re seeing growth in average order size; and we’re seeing growth indicators in areas of a satisfying customer experience.”
You can read the full USI Laminate case study for more information.
Make your commerce architecture better
Now that you have a base understanding of ecommerce platforms and how you can adapt and leverage them to integrate, grow and connect, let’s shift our mindset to applying this thinking on a larger scale to commerce architecture.
Your overall commerce architecture will determine how much data can be shared between all of your software components as a whole, not just your ecommerce platform. Again, your ecommerce platform is a single component, your commerce architecture is the entire ecosystem of software components that make up your business operations. This not only includes your ecommerce platform, but also any ERP’s, CRM's, OMS's, PIM's, marketing suites, analytics, reporting, etc. You’re goal for improving your architecture is the same as with your platform, eliminate swivel chair and automate processes by digitally connecting these systems. This is extremely important as business can’t successfully scale by building models around how their ecommerce platform alone works. Ecommerce platforms need to serve millions of businesses, so the functionality found within them is generalised to catch the largest base. This is a great start, but will quickly limit your company as you grow. Allow the ecommerce platform to become one important part, but not the brain, of the operation. Where to start? A few key concepts are listed below:
Understand how your data flows
Understanding how data gets transferred between all of the components within your commerce architecture is a good first step. Take a look at all of the components individually and take stock of how much manual data entry is being done. Is the same data being entered into multiple places? What manual tasks take the most time to complete or require the largest number of staff to perform? Are there annual tasks, such as taxes, that take staff away from operating the business? Can any of these manual processes be automated? Come up with a list of priorities that will have the most impact. After all, the more your business grows, the more difficult these processes will be to maintain.
Invest in your architecture
When you really start to understand your commerce architecture and how your data moves between each components, you may find that one or more component just isn’t up to spec with the rest. Swapping components out and replacing them with better ones could make a lot of sense. To maximise your operational efficiency and ability to profit, you should be focusing on configuring your commerce architecture for scalability. Different tools may have better integration capabilities.
For example, say you’re using older bookkeeping software and have an accounting team manually entering daily totals. Newer accounting platforms can be utilised that will “talk” to your ecommerce platform automatically, passing data in real-time. Instead of a large accounting team managing your books, you may only require an individual who reviews the data for accuracy instead.
Invest in custom integrations and automation
If you fully understand how your data flows and your commerce architecture is solid, it might make a lot of sense to start investing more time and money into deeper integrations and tailor made solutions. This mean honing your processes and automating as much data flow as possible, creating the connections where needed.
Continue to look for processes in your business that are the most time consuming or take the most human resources and start there. Making this way of thinking a part of all of your operational decisions will continue to pay off and strengthen your bottom line, giving you a competitive edge to innovate further. The USI Laminate case study mentioned earlier is an example of investing in your commerce architecture via custom integrations and automation. That example is based around the commerce platform, but at the architecture level you need to be thinking about all of your other components, too.
The primary goals of a commerce architecture should be as follows:
- Easy to change any single part at any given time
If you keep this concept in mind while scaling your digital operations, your company will have the ability to change as your company grows and its operational tools evolve.
What’s the state of your digital commerce operation?
If you haven’t done so yet, I’d urge you to give Acro Media’s Digital Commerce Assessment tool a try. We’ve developed this tool as a way for businesses to uncover any problematic areas within their digital commerce operations. It’s a valuable first step and it’s available to you at no cost. Think of your business from an architecture point of view as you complete this exercise. Try to avoid applying these ideas solely to your ecommerce platform, but rather the greater network of tools that connects your daily operations.
If you would like guidance figuring all of this out, you can always contact us. We’re more than happy to set you up with a consultant to discuss your findings. Our goal is to help you succeed in developing the best commerce architecture for your unique business, allowing for growth and scalability in your market space.