Retail Integrations: The Case for Middleware
Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Categories: Guest Author

Retail Integrations: The Case for Middleware

Ask any business owner or leader what their ambitions are for their company, and the one inevitable answer will always be “growth.” No business starts with the goal of mediocrity, yet very few put the tools and strategies in place to succeed. The omnichannel ecosystem is complex and expansive. Something that is especially true for omnichannel retailers selling through multiple digital and physical channels. Only a select few businesses put enough effort into surrounding their company with trusted partners and service providers. Those with real experience in the omnichannel industry that can help navigate complexities and implement robust, scalable solutions that enable unhindered growth.

Put simply, data integration is automating your data movements between 2 or more applications

While every business’ growth arc is unique, there are common threads (and headaches) most will experience. One growing pain all scaling businesses encounter is how to automate data movement between the applications that make up their back-end technology stack. These applications – the heart of the business – are what allow a business to serve it’s customers. And the way those applications are integrated can have repercussions for years to come.

Data Integration and Growth

Put simply, data integration is automating your data movements between two or more applications. Some still include manual data entry on the spectrum of data movement strategies, but generally true data integration is automated with the use of APIs and webhooks, or EDI. But if you find your current integration strategy still forces you to manipulate your data at either end of the flow, you’re not truly integrated. True data integration is an absolute – you’re either integrated, or you’re not. Partial integration – the one that leaves you with field matching, manual editing, or other tasks – is not true integration, and is likely a sign you’ve outgrown your current data integration strategy.

So what’s the next step in your strategy and growth? You’re likely at a crossroad. Your data requires the application of business rules to the data transformation between one application and the next, and/or you have applications that have been customized to your business’ needs. You’re evaluating data integration middleware partners to help you solve your pain points over the long term, but you’re also considering the alternative option of building out these integrations in-house.

True data integration is an absolute - you're either integrated or you are not.

Build or Buy? Data Integration for Long Term Growth

With growing complexities and multiplying sales channels, the omnichannel retailing community is up against a wall. Many grow out of either the data entry or plug-and-play data integration worlds, which are relative ‘knowns’ and easily understood. But beyond this point lies complexity, both in your technology stack and in terms of next-tier solutions. It’s at this point that a decision needs to be made: does your business internalize your data integration needs by building a solution in-house. Or do you source a middleware provider who specializes in more complex data integration services? 

Build-it-yourself data integration has appeal to businesses who have robust IT departments and the capabilities to maintain the solution over the long-term. However, the build-it-yourself option comes with a set of cautions for any business that considers it a viable option: DIY is expensive in terms of both opportunity cost and investment over time. Furthermore, it is a hassle to integrate new applications and data, while needing to maintain the solution over time in a constantly changing and growing market.

Middleware solution providers, in contrast, are experts in data integration. This translates directly into agility and scalability, as it’s no longer your IT department’s job to keep up with API updates, adding new channels, or modifying how business rules are applied to your data translations. This keeps your business truly 100% integrated for the long-term. With a data integration provider to support you through any change, addition, or eventuality.


Build or Buy Brief


Your Omnichannel Data Integration Strategy Really Matters

DIY is expensive in terms of both opportunity cost and investment over time. We recently presented to a group of Shopify Plus businesses and partners in Toronto on this very topic. We highlighted the differences between DIY and middleware in detail (you can download the presentation here), but brought the discussion to life with the use of a case study from one of our omnichannel retail customers.

This particular customer is the epitome of today’s omnichannel retailer. With multiple online and bricks-and-mortar sales channels, a complex ERP system, an ecommerce cart and tens of thousands of SKUs, this business is looking to automate key data movements while applying business rules to the translations.

This business initially opted for the build-it-yourself data integration strategy via a third party. Unfortunately, complexity requiring agility arose, and the business floundered: the DIY solution was not responsive enough. Both errors and costs for re-implementation quickly stacked up. With the acquisition of a new brand, altering shipping methods, and applying business rules to their data movements, the business ultimately had to abandon the DIY data integration strategy, as it left them unable to be sufficiently scalable and agile.

Turning to VL and the VL OMNI middleware platform, these headaches were quickly remedied. The new brand acquisition was integrated into the business by duplicating existing application-specific workflows instead of having to build these integrations from scratch. Altering the shipping method required changing a few parameters and took only about 20 minutes to complete. Altogether, applying business rules to the data movements was done in such a way that allowed the business to continue to be agile and responsive.

Data integration strategy comes down to how agile it allows your business to be.

So What’s Best for Your Business?

Ultimately, your data integration strategy comes down to how agile it allows your business to be as you continue to grow. Considering a middleware solution to connect to systems like Shopify Plus, or Magento, for example, are a fast, cost effective, and solid long term strategy. Remember too that your integration strategy shouldn’t dictate how you run your business, but rather your business should inform your integrations.


Guest Author:

Jessica ThieleJessica Thiele is the marketing manager and marketing lead at VL. The high-tech B2B SaaS company, based out of Ontario Canada,  serves the omni-channel retail market in Canada, the USA, and the UK. A holder of a M.Sc. degree in Anthropology from the University of Toronto, Jessica Thiele approaches all aspects of marketing and management with a high degree of critical thinking.



About VL:

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VL provides agile and scalable SaaS data integration to scaling upper SMB and enterprise-level omnichannel business across a number of sectors, including omnichannel retail. Over 200 businesses trust VL OMNI, an agile point to multi-channel integration middleware platform, to move data seamlessly through their infrastructure as they grow, expand and accelerate their business. Accelerate growth with VL OMNI: Your trusted integration platform for real-time accurate customer order data, shipment details, inventory, and prices.





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