Integration essential for online retailers

Online retailers benefit from accessing integration as a process in which connections between systems and partners are established as services.

Like all entrepreneurs online retailers get to do with changes in their environment. Changes that are stimulated by internal and external forces to which a company is subject.

External forces can take threatening forms to which companies need to respond directly. Governments that release new laws and regulations. Competitors that launch new products and services in the market. Suppliers who impose higher demands on products. Logistic service providers who continuously strive for optimal capacity utilization and maximum flexibility. Customers who want to have more control over the ordering and delivery process.

As an entrepreneur you would like to be well prepared for future opportunities and challenges. This requires an agile and nimble organization that is able to adapt processes and products quickly.

Online retailers, par excellence, cannot do without flexible information systems. Often their environments are composed of self-developed solutions combined with third-party applications. They experience most problems with integrating all these systems and find it difficult to anticipate on requests from outside.

Integration is the foundation of a successful online Retail-environment. It connects all components and enables the whole to work seamlessly with stakeholders, customers, suppliers, banks and carriers.

View the animation videos "customer interaction with webshop" and "returning products through physical shop" at the bottom.

When retailers have integration solutions that enable process-driven and model-based setup of connections between systems and partners, support monitoring and maintenance of these connections, it is possible to be flexible and to respond quickly to changes. The integration-process model gives immediate insight into where adjustments in the chain are possible. The standard available connections of mature integration solutions make it possible to establish links with internal and external applications or systems without programming (coding).


PICTURE: process-driven-integration-engine.jpg

Online Retail environments form the hub in the web of customers, suppliers, and carriers. To facilitate the wishes and demands from the inside and outside world different systems and partners have to cooperate with each other:

- a product catalog that contains general data, pictures, technical descriptions and part numbers (numbers of manufacturers or EAN-codes). A catalog that is centrally maintained by importing product data of suppliers or from product datapools, or by unlocking vendor catalogs via punch-out (Ariba, SAP now) or OCI RoundTrip (SAP).

- an inventory management system that is accessible online but also from a POS (Point Of Sale) system so that independent of time, place, and channel the inventory situation can be viewed and maintained.

- a customer relationship management system (CRM) that allows to record customers, interests and purchases and supports loyalty programs with customer cards.

- an order registration system for recording customer orders which form the basis for creating the invoice.

- a payment environment through which connections with various payment systems can be established.

- a billing environment for creating the invoice for the customer.

- a shipment system that enables control of carriers and external warehouses through electronic messages.

Setting up the integration process

With the modeling tool the process flow between all applications, the webshop or point of sale environments and the external partners are modeled. These processes are modeled on a descriptive level in BPMN2 (strategic - what steps are executed) to a detailed level (operational - what information is exchanged with which systems and partners) to an executable level in UML (executable - how are services, connections and data called and executed).

The executable UML models are stripped from all ballast and exported as XMI (XML Interchange Format) and imported into the Process Engine. The Process Engine performs the steps that are initiated from the webshop or the point of sale environments.

All information about inputs, outputs and lead times of the individual steps in the integration process are held and recorded. These can be viewed and analyzed with the live monitor.

Example customer interaction with webshop

When a customer uses a web browser (desktop, tablet or mobile) or accesses the webshop via an app on the smartphone all activities for searching, viewing and ordering products are coordinated by the process in the Process Engine. View the interaction between all components when ordering a product in the webshop:


YOUTUBE: WEBSHOP process-driven animation

Example returning products via physical shop

When customers return products in a physical shop the same process in the Process Engine is called for taking the goods back in stock, correcting accounts receivable and the customer loyalty program.


YOUTUBE: POS process-driven animation

Realization

The basis for realizing this are process-driven and model-based integration solutions with a small server and memory footprint. Solutions which do not need a fast processor and extreme internal memory. This calls for solutions that do not need a Web server (Apache Tomcat, JBoss, etc.) but run directly as a virtual machine on operating systems and are continuously operational without interruption.

A little spider in the network of applications a company uses which ensures that everything is and remains constantly connected. When a connection goes down buffers the data, continues to support the work of other applications, and waits for the line to become operational again to transmit the preserved data.

The number of process-driven and model-based integration solutions with a small server and memory footprint is limited.

On request I can tell you more about it.

Tags: BPMN2, Process Modeling, Retail

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