The explosive growth of online buying and selling in recent years has fueled increasing demands on enterprise e-commerce systems. To thrive in today’s online marketplace, B2B organizations must be nimble and create shopping experiences that mimic B2C where options, efficiency and ease are expected. This “consumerization of B2B” requires flexible e-commerce architecture.
Established companies that extended their existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems with e-business solutions, such as SAP Internet Sales, are struggling to improve website usability because of the inflexibility of the e-commerce extension module. In addition, rigid constraints of using an ERP system for e-commerce require highly specialized consultants and custom development, increasing the cost of conducting e-business. These organizations face several challenges as they try to offer a similar experience available on B2C e-commerce sites using legacy or home-grown platforms.
Five Headaches an ERP Solution Causes for e-Commerce
For B2B e-commerce to be successful, organizations must move beyond their ERP solutions to overcome some major obstacles. These include the ability to support a complex sales process involving customer- or country-specific catalogs and prices, complex address management with multiple addresses and address relationships, and authorization processes, all online. The e-commerce experience needs to support direct selling or, alternatively, sales through partners and resellers.
Understanding some of the headaches experienced when extending an ERP solution for e-commerce can enable organizations to improve the customer experience and thus capture a significant market opportunity.
1. Performance and Usability
Your customers are pressed for time to do their job. If your site loads too slowly or customers cannot easily find what they want, they will get frustrated and go elsewhere. They want high performance with the same features and functionality as those of top consumer web retailers. Slow performance and rigid, difficult-to-use interfaces are typical when ERP is extended to enable e-business. ERP vendors are not agile enough to quickly respond to changing customer demands. As a result, performance problems plague many of these sites creating a frustrating user experience and missed revenue opportunities.
2. Order History and Tracking
Your customers want to place orders quickly, so creating an experience that makes their lives easier when ordering will create customer loyalty. Offering a compelling experience that allows access to things like preferences, re-order templates and order history between visits is vital. This requires access to information contained in the backend ERP systems. But, because ERP systems are built to allow your internal users within an organization to do their jobs efficiently, they do not offer the same efficiency to your customers. These systems lack the inherent ability to provide a compelling customer facing Web experience.
3. Modern Marketing Agility
Traditionally, ERP systems do well on inventory and supply schedules, but significantly underperform compared to modern e-commerce platforms in areas of new media such as marketing, promotions, analytics, A/B testing and product information for online commerce. ERP systems also underperform with the integration of third party tools like tracking pixels, shopping engine feeds and product reviews or recommendations. Without an e-commerce platform that can deliver agile capabilities to adjust to your customers and market trends, it won’t work for you. You will be missing a huge competitive trick.
4. Global Scaling
Keeping up with increasingly complex regulatory environments around the world requires online systems to be robust and flexible. ERP platforms lack the flexibility to quickly and easily add important and unique region-specific support including taxation, labeling, documentation and localization.
5. Specialized Staffing Costs
Owing to the inherent complexities of an ERP system, projects that seek to achieve the same functionality that modern e-commerce systems offer out of the box tend to be highly resource intensive. In addition, specialized ERP consultants with e-commerce experience command premium wages, making online projects prohibitively expensive.
These five headaches cannot be cured with a legacy ERP-based e-commerce solution in place. Meeting the online needs of sophisticated customers and suppliers can be challenging even for the most flexible and robust sales organization. Mature organizations and manufacturers of heavily regulated products such as pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and chemicals can no longer rely on legacy or home-grown e-commerce solutions to meet the demands of customers, suppliers and regulators.
Instead, to reach new customers and retain loyalty, organizations need flexibility and improved functionality. To stay competitive in a rapidly changing online environment, they must overcome the challenges presented by SAP or other ERP-based e-commerce systems. This requires an online solution designed from the ground up for greater efficiency and better user experience. These solutions must be flexible and scalable enough to meet changing regulations, deliver excellent customer service, enable meaningful business analytics, and support complex business models. What’s more, they must support your business today, as well as in the many years to come without the need for a major re-platforming project.
De-Couple E-Commerce from ERP
Given that most global businesses have significant investments in ERP solutions, a key tip to consider when selecting an e-commerce platform is to look for one that can be tightly integrated into existing SAP and other ERP systems. After all, you want to protect what is working within the organization and the investment made in this system. By de-coupling the e-commerce functionality from the ERP system, changes can be made quickly and easily to the customer-experience portion of online sites without requiring extensive development resources that would be required with an ERP extended system.