Integrating a new E-Commerce Platform
Can your digital strategy handle the implementation of a new platform? Learn how to execute an e-commerce implementation process successfully.
E-commerce platforms are, by nature, deeply embedded in their organization. A deep analysis of the complete solution landscape – including ERP, CRM, and PIM, to name but a few options – is common practice when starting a new e-commerce implementation project. This includes an analysis of all the different data flowing through these systems. But, integrating a new e-commerce platform in a running business demands more than collecting the data that flows through applications.
Is your implementation strategy up to the task?
This isn’t an all encompassing e-commerce implementation guide or checklist. Every organization has its own goals and challenges after all. But at the same time, the most basic questions and topics are surprisingly universal. Consider the following:
- E-commerce implementation strategy & goals: When is your e-commerce implementation successful?
- Vision and analysis of the complete solution. What’s the current and future state of:
- The architecture: what does a flexible architecture look like?
- Data: how can data be collected, managed, and shared effectively and consistently?
- Processes: what can be improved in the end-to-end process?
- Application landscape: which application is in charge of what functionality?
- E-commerce implementation plan: can you reserve sufficient time from your most knowledgeable people?
- E-commerce implementation and migration strategy.
- A short checklist before Go Live:
- Is your organization properly prepared for the new system and processes?
- Measuring and reporting: does the new solution live up to its standards? Make sure you recognize and fix issues quickly.
- Learn and improve. Always.
Let’s explore each of these topics in a bit more detail.
Setting goals for your e-commerce implementation project
We’ll assume the project is aligned with your strategy, you have a business case, and that when compared to all other potential improvement initiatives, this project is the one that stands out for driving the most business value in the short or long term. So, what is it you’re trying to achieve exactly? Cost savings, through more efficient processes or improved self-service for instance? Or higher profits through better functionality, roll outs in different countries, larger assortments, or better marketing capabilities?
I’m sure you have no trouble answering these questions, but can you quantify any of this? How many extra orders per channel does this mean? What’s the new average order value target? What about the decrease in calls to customer service, and how exactly will this you save money? Having these metrics clearly defined before the start of the project is important.
Consider the following tasks:
- Create a project plan, define the scope of the first release, and set the right milestones.
- Avoid putting efforts in the wrong areas, at the wrong time.
- Guide early user testing.
- Ensure everyone’s aligned, both inside the teams and in management, to avoid budget cuts or overspending time.
- Measure success, or the lack thereof, which creates an opportunity to improve early on.
A vision and analysis of the complete solution
The required vision of a new e-commerce solution is a rather large subject, and despite the fact that the situation and outcome of every project is different, some of the topics that need to be addressed are universal enough to be of value for every organization on this transitional journey. Let’s dive into a few of them.
When it comes to deciding on your architecture, flexibility is key for agile organizations, but never at the expense of reliability, maintainability, and security. A Micro Service Architecture (MSA) provides great flexibility, but requires extra time and resources to set up properly. An all-in-one solution will make you more dependent on the solution provider, but if their platform offers everything you could possibly need, at low implementation costs, this could be the best choice for your implementation strategy.
The same holds true for ‘headless’ or ‘Progressive Web App’ solutions. Don’t follow the hype but always ask yourself what business value a solution brings to your specific situation. How integral is your e-commerce platform to your overall strategy? How different from the general market are your use cases? How much ongoing development do you expect, and what’s needed to give you a competitive edge? What are you capable of handling in-house, considering both competences and planning? Answering these questions provides a solid foundation for further developing a vision on your architecture, and on what’s needed to get there.
Data is the life blood of a digital organization, but lack of ownership and consolidation can also be the cause for many inconsistencies and low efficiency. In a modern, digital organization data must be easily accessible by anyone that needs it. Employees and customers should be accommodated in all their data needs, while strict policies on data quality are maintained.
So whether it’s product data, customer data, transactional data, or marketing data, you should ask the same questions:
- Where is my data (is it duplicated or scattered)?
- What’s the quality of the data (is it complete, consistent, free of errors)?
- Which tools are consuming, enhancing or modifying the data?
- Which tool is considered the single source of truth for each data set?
- Who has the rights to Create/Read/Update/Delete (CRUD)?
- What processes, tools, and people are needed to ensure proper data quality and availability in the future?
Creating optimal data policies and processes isn’t usually considered a very fun process, but those directly impacted will understand the need and appreciate the result. It should simply be part of your digital hygiene routine to begin with. Your ability to collect, structure, enrich, expose and apply data on this level is becoming increasingly strategic for any digital organization.
Which processes can be supported or even replaced by your e-commerce implementation?
Analyzing the end-to-end process – starting with purchasing, product onboarding and enrichment, and see it through all the way to publication, marketing, sales, and aftersales – leads to valuable insights about your data flow. Which processes are manual? Which processes are inefficient? Which processes can be performed with a shorter lead time? Improving your processes has many potential advantages:
- Efficiency: shorter lead times and less manual operations.
- Quality: replacing manual work with automated processes means fewer errors.
- Customer satisfaction: higher efficiency means the customer can be informed quicker, or even realtime. But on top of that, automation comes with the option of self-service. This not only reduces costs even further, but also provides more convenience for your customers.
Unless you operate a very small business, an e-commerce platform is much more than an application. Even the monoliths of this world are comprised of interrelated but independent modules. With the more extreme configurations currently found in the architectural landscape, it’s still clear which component is responsible for which functions. But these extreme situations rarely manifest themselves in organizations that are always in transformation. More often than not, the architecture reflects the history of the organization and its solutions, and responses to new technological paradigms, management changes, mergers, and market developments. Therefore, your application landscape will most likely already display characteristics of a Best of Breed architecture, but at the same time contain elements of a monolith or a Micro Service Architecture. And it’s this duality that can lead to friction.
Answering the following questions can help smooth things out:
- Where is each application in its life cycle?
- Which applications still need to evolve to deliver on their promise?
- Which applications should have been phased-out already, but are difficult to replace?
- Which applications are superfluous when the new e-commerce platform is implemented? Are the new functionalities really an improvement over the old? Can the old functionality somehow be merged or implemented in the new solution?
- What tasks are executed by each of the applications? Is there overlapping functionality?
- Can the efficiency, quality, or maintainability be improved by consolidating tasks and applications, or by separating them in decoupled instances?
Design and development - executing an e-commerce implementation process
The main challenge related to integrating a new platform in a running e-business environment is time. The people that are needed for analysis, design, assessment of the specifications, and acceptance testing, are the same people tied up in the day-to-day operations of the business. It’s not uncommon to have only one or two crucial employees in your company with a deep knowledge and understanding of all the processes, data flows, and applications. The issue is that they’re usually in high demand throughout the entire organization because of their knowledge. So before starting the implementation process, make sure the proper roles and employees have reserved sufficient time.
High intensity involvement:
- Subject matter experts (as described above).
- IT/application experts.
- A strong product owner that can organize the stakeholders internally, with the authority to make small but fundamental decisions.
Low intensity involvement (but equally important):
- Business and MT (setting goals, governance).
- Customer Service (their input can be invaluable for specifying the needed functionality).
- Marketing (design and customer experience).
- Purchase and Sales (give direction on assortment, channels, and markets).
Depending on the solution, goals, and structure of your organization, many other roles can be involved where needed (e.g. in the areas of fulfilment, offline stores, and legal). Reserving time may be easier said than done, but you can’t expect to deliver a top-tier product without the involvement of your top-tier people.
There’s also the topic of the continuing development of your existing platform, while working on the new platform at the same time. This will be covered in the Migration paragraph below.
E-commerce implementation strategy: migration scenarios
So how can you safely move from one system or platform to the next? And if things don’t work out, do you have a fallback scenario in place? There are several important phases to distinguish in a migration project.
- In a competitive environment it’s not always possible to simply stop development on your old platform, even though the added functionality will only have a very short lifespan. This can impact the scope and the planning of the new system. Make sure the new backlog is up-to-date, and inform stakeholders of the consequences.
- Content migration is almost always underestimated. Structured content such as product data shouldn’t be a problem, but migration to a new system often involves CMS or editorial content. Ask your implementation partner how you can get a head start on putting new content in the new system. This may require some negotiation from different parties.
- All relevant customer and order data should be migrated long before Go Live, for testing purposes.
- The latest data can be migrated just before Go Live.
- Make sure you don’t use any of the most recent customer data.
- Will customers be able to use their same credentials? If not, how will this be communicated?
- Avoid peak load right after Go Live.
Especially in a multichannel and multimarket environment, migration can be a complex puzzle to solve. This could be a good reason to keep (parts of) the old system running alongside the new system. In this scenario:
- Account for customers that are active on multiple channels.
- Make sure your stock is accurate on all channels and systems.
- Keep all prices and promotions synced.
It’s important to give this phase the attention it deserves during development, because it can impact data and integrations. Making the right decisions can avoid a lot of unnecessary stress, in a time with no shortage of stress as it is.
Beyond the Go Live
The implementation phase is also a good time to prepare for the coming operational phases after Go Live. This is a topic on its own, but there are a few important things to outline related to implementation and deployment.
Is your organization prepared for the new system and processes?
The first weeks and months of a transition on this scale are always challenging. No matter how good or intuitive the new system is, it’s still different to what people are used to. Make sure that they have the proper training and support.
- Is there a (marketing) strategy? How do you plan to get the most out of the system?
- Are your employees trained in working with the new system?
- Is there a manual available for them to consult?
- Is there an internal system-owner to support employees in their daily tasks?
- Is there an external support line for special questions and issues?
Monitoring and Reporting
Discovering if the new solution lives up to your expectations will take some time. A new customer facing system needs a little push to regain its traction. In this phase it’s important that issues are recognized and fixed early, and that any and all customer feedback is handled. This means you have to think about tools to monitor behaviour and capture customer feedback during implementation, and make sure there are processes and resources to follow up on the feedback.
Learning and improving
As a final note, the development process doesn’t stop at Go Live of course. These days, developing top-tier software is all about learning and adapting. Go Live is just the first step of this journey. Make sure you have the tools and resources to monitor, learn, and always keep improving. A lot of progress can be made in the first months and years after Go Live. If you have correctly setup your feedback process, you’ll learn things you simply couldn’t have anticipated beforehand. In project oriented cultures this is sometimes seen as a shortcoming of the project definition, and the organization may struggle because no resources were allocated for improvements. Agile organizations on the other hand welcome new insights, and see them as an opportunity to grow. They’re prepared for the entire journey, not just the first leg, and reserve the people and budget needed to ensure the project reaches its full potential. In times of increasing globalization and competition, continuous improvement isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. This begs the question; what kind of organization are you?
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We hope this article has provided some valuable insights, helping you prepare for this important change. Knowing what to expect will help greatly when preparing for the implementation of a new e-commerce project. We also know from experience that no two organizations are the same, and each implementation comes with its own unique set of challenges. Whether it’s the business case, technical complexities, lead time, project dynamics, or the internal organization, if there are no challenges your scope probably isn’t ambitious enough. Spending time on the implementation strategy, managing the expectations of the stakeholders, and setting the right boundaries can avoid a lot of stress and wasted resources.