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3 Antiquated Ideas About Data Integration: The ERP Vendor Trap

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We reached out this week to Nathan Camp of Liaison Technologies to come up with a blog article. We gave him free reign. The directive – Nathan write what ever you want that reflects some thing you are passionate about. Nathan came up with a great article – 3 Antiquated Ideas About Data Integration.

Yesterday, I received an energy usage survey in the mail from Southern California Edison. The package was thick, filled with paper…….. and a pencil……. to complete the fill-in-the-bubbles answers with rigid choices.  The horrors of elementary school lunches and the recess lady came rushing back at me. If they had sent me a link to an online survey and a dollar, they would have had better conversions, faster processing, and less overall costs related to compiling the results.

Antiquated ways of doing things exist in data integration as well.

(1) ONE VENDOR – ONE SOLUTION

The move to integrated ERP from a single vendor seems to have run its course. With the explosion of SaaS-based ERPCRM, marketing automation, WMS solutions, and the broad creation of new solutions for emerging needs (I’m thinking of companies like Avalara for geo-coded tax recording or Taulia for dynamic discounting), the dream of a one vendor – one solution seems to be quickly fading.

Yet, I was on a recent call with a Microsoft Dynamics solution provider who stated, “Our clients use MS Dynamics ERP, therefore they are also using MS Dynamics CRM. The integration between those packages is seamless.” I will bet there is a very high linkage between MS Dynamix GP/NAV/AX and CRM implementations. But according to Forbes, Sales Force is #1 with 14% market share while Microsoft is #4 and has 6.3% percent market share. Unless your system integrator has the tools to offer you ways to connect disparate on-premise and Cloud solutions, you may need to find a new solution provider.

(2) THOSE DATA FORMATS DON’T AFFECT US

I recently attended the Internet Retail Conference in Chicago, IL and quickly realized two truths my partner, Virtual Logistics, has been talking about for the last couple of years.

  • APIs are here
  • Every new solution likely requires some type of data exchange with your other systems

I say APIs are here because there were literally hundreds of new vendors at IRCE this year, and they all offered APIs to share data with other applications.

A quick look at The ProgrammableWeb shows they have over 9550 published APIs listed in their directory. This may not sound amazing until you realize only how recently APIs have arrived on the scene. Most software companies understand the need to connect and share information and resources with other systems. APIs offer simplicity and structure in what data can be accessed and how it is accessed. APIs can spare software from direct database writes necessary with other staging table systems, they can eliminate the need for external scripts to run to absorb or release flat file data. It allows new kinds of data to be shared beyond structured data formats like EDI. But even with APIs, there are changes afoot. In May 2013, Twitter dropped support of their XML-based APIs and now only support JSON.

So whatever you call your data integration solution (mapper, translator, middleware), it is increasingly important that it supports multiple data formats including EDI (X12, EDIFACT, Tradacoms), data files (fixed-width and comma separated variable), database, XML, and JSON.

(3) DATA INTEGRATION IS EASY

Wrong! Data integration is hard. Especially when you customize your data tables to meet your business needs. Especially when you and your clients or supply chain are creatively re-tweaking how you do business to do things faster and work more collaboratively. I have watched global organizations pull their hair out when a client needs to do things a little different. Rather than solving the puzzle of pushing the round peg through a square hole, the asked their client to come back when they had a square peg. This global company missed the opportunity to evaluate a new approach simply because they had fragile systems incapable of the flexibility needed in today’s business environment.

Data integration experts want to do two things: repeat solutions and dictate data formats. This provides control and comfort for you and the data integration expert. You reduce your project risk with a well-worn path, you are not funding research, and your speed to solution completion is shortened. The data integration expert has a track record to show you, they have some degree of certainty about total costs to implementation, and they have blueprints how to make your project work.

But what about the other data integration points beyond your B2B or eCommerce integration projects? How do you move that data from EDI to ERP to WMS to CRM to marketing automation software? In a recent blog article, I mention a few things to consider in your data integration projects. This is where I have seen the greatest need between ERP experts and data integration experts. Your data projects will work best when you manage a team consisting of cross-department data creator/consumer leads, your solution providers, and your trading partners if you are working in B2B commerce.

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