The connection of cloud-based business applications is a new and popular trend at the moment. We have worked on many projects and connected many websites to many different business applications for many unique NZ businesses. We have learnt a lot along the way. We want to share that with you so that you can learn from all the mistakes and avoid these happening to you!
1. The benefits of Automation
- Improved business process efficiencies
- reduction/elimination of human effort
- elimination of human error and frequently significant amounts of time involved in identifying, understanding and correcting such errors.
- free-up a significant part of individual’s time, which can be reallocated to other, more meaningful [and enjoyable?] tasks.
2. Integration seems so simple? Why does it cost so much?
Integration is like a duck swimming on the water - It looks simple and easy on the surface but his little legs are working furiously underneath. Many people do not understand the complexity involved.
Depending on what you are expecting and trying to achieve, Automation can be very expensive. Simple integration such as embedding a booking form can be free, and connecting an ERP system together we have seen cost in the 100’s of thousands.
You need to factor in the specialist costs but also the cost for your time to plan and change your business processes. What are your costs to develop new processes, learn new software?
3. Automation is building a robot to replace a human
Why don't they just connect? Why doesn't all software just connect? You are replacing a human being - It is complicated and expensive it can take a long time and there are ongoing costs for support and maintenance and continual upgrade.
Replacing a human is not easy. The administration tasks might seem simple. Picking up an egg sounds like a simple task, but it requires a lot of effort to plan, build, test and maintain. a robot to complete such a simple task and a lot of eggs get broken in the process.
If it was easy every company would do it right and there would be no need for human administrators?
Consider the impact on your customer service
Automation might save costs but how will it impact your service - without the human touch? Will your robot come across cold and automated.
4. Business automation requires specialist business knowledge and consulting
Take for example the automation of entering web orders into your accounting system. This operation requires an understanding of your unique business and your accounting practice. It will involve an account specialist, a website specialist you will need to invest your own time, and a developer and testing specialists will need to build the robot. A project manager will need to tie all these specialists together and keep the project on track.
There are a lot of unknowns which makes it very difficult to plan and price from the beginning.
We work with external consultants
Zeald is not a business consultant we specialise in websites and online marketing.
- Link solutions - specialise in small business cloud based applications in particular, Zeald, Unleashed, Xero and Vend
- Convergence - Specialise in connecting business applications for larger business with custom requirements
5. Business automation is developing and evolving quickly
With the growth and development of cloud based applications like Xero and Vend, these applications are young and evolve rapidly.
Most cloud companies upgrade their software which breaks the connection at least every 3 years.
6. Choosing the right software requires specialist knowledge, research, and testing
Unleashed started as an inventory application and looked to connect with Vend to look after the POS. Vend started as a POS system. Now Vend is doing inventory and Unleashed has a barcode scanner.
Which software do you choose? Do you need both? Do you need to connect them together? Does anyone remember Google Wave
Is it worth investing now or should you wait for the dust to settle. Do you even know if that software will exist in a few years?
Don't get caught up in the cloud “Cool” factor
With so much buzz it can be easy to forget the business reality. Sometimes the cloud and automation does not make things faster and more efficient. Sometimes there is simply no ROI
7. Integration is not seamless as many people expect
People think their integration will be seamless. That it will all happen and flow perfectly as they thought.
You are connecting two very foreign software together. They are designed to a do a very separate task from the other. They operate with separate rules. The website representation is never the same as the accounting software and will never be.
When we integrate we automate the transfer of information from one system to another. Much of the information is not relevant in the other system. Some of the information is in a unique format and a rule needs to be created to work for your unique business.
For example transferring an order from your website to your accounting application might sound simple. Consider, an order flows through from your website and needs to be converted into an invoice in your accounts software. You have to decide what to do with the variables from the website that your accounting software does not handle.
For example in a website there are product options, images and text descriptions, pricing, discounts from coupons, discounts from bulk purchases, sales promotions, VIP customer discounts, customer information, delivery costs and Tax, multicurrency....How will your accounting software interpret and calculate this information?
What about the rounding? Does your accounts software round to 2 decimal places? Do you round at every step or only at the end. 1*2*3 and then round. or do you do 1 round, * 2 round *3 round. Each will produce a slightly different total. Your accountant will not be happy when the two systems do not add up.
8. Integration will reduce some human error, but can introduce new mistakes
Remember humans write the code to replace the humans. Code has bugs. Code is often changing. Bugs creep in. Often the software bugs will go unnoticed and cause a errors that require real humans to fix. Remember it is not just one software you are relying on here. There is at least 2, sometimes 3 or 4 different applications connecting with each other. Upgrades to any of these applications can introduce bugs and errors in the data. Humans pressing the wrong buttons can cause serious damage.
Computers make mistakes much faster than people, especially if no one is watching. Unsupervised computers :)
For example a human entered the wrong data in a promotion for the Amazon website and the automated software led to hundreds of items being sold for just 1p. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-foyle-west-30475542
When calculating your ROI, you need to consider costs for ongoing updates, fixes and repairs
9. Investment in planning is important from the beginning
With integration there are many unknowns. The clients business processes and requirements, the 3rd party software and the way that it works, the ability to connect. Every business is different - Every integration is different.
We are connecting with a third party software and there are many pitfalls - In many cases the connection to the software has never been done before, or in the particular way to suit your unique business requirements.
Software development is complicated and it gets even more complicated when 50% of it is out of our control. When something goes wrong we have to work with third party providers. Sometimes certain client requirements are impossible because it is a bug or the feature does not exist.
In some cases the entire business model is not going to work if the connection does not work. The business model relies on the automation being cost effective. It is important that you assess your requirements, the third party software and the ROI before investing in the development.
You want to avoid getting half way through this project and find out that a certain requirement is simply impossible or vastly expensive which means your business model is broken or leaves you with expensive “learning costs”
It is important that we plan carefully and understand integration and the pitfalls before we embark on this journey.
This is why we offer an “Integration Assessment”
10. Plug & Play product connections are a myth
It is very costly to develop a connection between two different business applications and make it easy and flexible for any business to adapt and set up for their unique business requirements
Such a connection needs to be very flexible and configurable with a user friendly interface that allows many different businesses configure the connection to work for them.
Usually the only way to get them to work is to limit the options and features for connecting the software. It usually requires making concessions for the benefit of the majority. This often means that you will need to make concessions in your own business.
It is important that you understand the limitations of a plug & play connection before you fully commit. Unlike most other plug & Play solutions, with Zeald it might be possible to customise a plug and play connection to make it work for your unique business requirements.
There needs to be significant amount of interest in a particular business application for it to be a worthy investment for Zeald or the third party software provider. There is so much variety in business applications, there are so many other options for businesses, and it is difficult to get enough interest.
For example we invested many hours scoping, developing, testing to get the Unleashed connection working. It will take many clients to replenish this investment. Then there is the ongoing maintenance of that connection.
There is always the risk that the application will not be around tomorrow after all that investment.
11. Integration is Stressful - Costly - Time consuming - ongoing
You are the only person who understands your business processes and the future direction of your business. You are the only person who can plan and direct the connection. It involves significant time & effort on your behalf to carefully do your due-diligence and select the right software and the right specialists. There are many important decisions along the way that will require your input.
You want to choose the right solution from the beginning. It is very hard and expensive to turn back or make changes once you have made a start.
It is especially stressful when it comes to accounting. You have to get it right and you are often working to a deadline.
Back in the day Zeald grew out of MYOB as an accounting system. We upgraded our accounting software and decided to connect it to our inhouse ERP system. Even though Zeald has its own inhouse development team. we commissioned a company who specialise in integrating accounting software.
We understand software, business processes and integration more than most people. We spent many weeks scoping the requirements and research and investigation to find the right accounting software and the right integration developer. They gave us a large time & materials quote (6 figures).
The project went over budget by 2x, it took much longer than we planned, it involved many serious meetings to keep it on track involving our CEO and senior staff. We had to concede many features and it is still not what we originally expected. But it is working.
There is of course the ongoing cost to bug fix and apply upgrades.
12. An agile method to prepare for automation
Get some good advice at the beginning to set you in the right direction - You should test the software well first.
You should test the connection with admin and business processes first
Do it with people and admin first. Test it and get the business process and business rules established first and then look to automate - Run a pilot programme.
Use spreadsheets. When you prove that this connection is costly to maintain using admin, it is probably time to start looking at automating.
Prove the concept first. This is what we do at Zeald.
13. Estimate your ROI upfront
It is important that you understand what want to achieve. What the point of the investment is.
You then need to assess the ROI of the automation. You need to calculate the cost savings and have a good idea of the potential costs to implement the automation.
The ROI - needs to add up. and aim to payback within 24 months. In many cases it can be cheaper to simply use admin and business processes.
If you think that you are ready to automate talk to us - Lets schedule an automation Assessment
14. Example case studies
Using a business process to streamline the connection with Vend
I need to integrate my ecommerce website with Vend my POS software - How much?
Reduce admin costs and improve accuracy of our inventory stock on hand for reporting
Current business processes:
- Handwritten receipts. In the process of setting up Vend with a consultant
- The website makes up 20% of the total orders
- The remaining 80% are processed through the store in South Auckland
- All the stock is managed in the store in South Auckland
Use a business process:
- Order comes through the website and store admin is alerted with an email
- Admin prints a picking list from the website order or view on an Ipad. Pick the items from the store shelves and put them into a box
- Bring all the items to the store counter and use the barcode scanner to scan each item.
- Record the sale all as “internet sale” in Vend.
- Send the package
Now your Vend inventory will always be accurate. Use Vend to know when to replenish an item
Very minimal amount of admin required 1 min per order to scan each item. 5 orders p/d = 5 mins a day. About 20hrs admin a year. Very little chance for errors.
But it means that the website inventory is not updated. IE when someone purchases a product through the shop it will not automatically update the website inventory. This means that there is the chance a website user could potentially purchase an item that is out of stock.
- Doesn't matter. we always reorder before we hit 0 stock using Vend
- It does not take long for an item to arrive in stock and it is best to keep the item available and allow the user to place an order. It is a simple process for the web master to call the customer and advise them that due to popular demand we have unfortunately sold out of that model, we do have the blue ones in stock or a similar one. Or it will be in stock in 1 week or I can process a refund. It is best that the order is taken than have the customer not find the product at all and go to a competitor.
- Stock can be updated manually on the website when an item stock hits 0 in Vend the Web master updates the website inventory manually for each item. If it is large volume of items each day this could be done via a spreadsheet at the end of each day. A 5 min task
15. Integration that does not produce ROI
I need to connect my website to my accounting software
To reduce admin and improve accuracy setting up new products. Means that the admin only needs to setup the product in the accounts software and at the press of a button the product would be automatically setup on the website
- Setup 5 new items p/m
- 2 mins to setup the item in the website
- 5 x 2 mins = 10 mins p/m
This automation investment will save 2 hrs admin time a year
It would cost more than 10k and there is important data that does not exist n the accounting software such as Search engine meta data and rich text descriptions and video. This information and formatting is important for an effective product page on a website and would need to be applied to each product through the website interface.
This investment does not add up. There is no return on the investment.
- The benefits of automation
- Integration seems so simple? Why does it cost so much?
- Automation is building a robot to replace a human
- Business automation requires specialist business knowledge and consulting
- Business automation is developing and evolving quickly
- Choosing the right software requires specialist knowledge, research, and testing
- Integration is not seamless as many people expect
- Integration will reduce some human error, but can introduce new mistakes
- Investment in planning is important from the beginning
- Plug & Play product connections are a myth
- Integration is Stressful - Costly - Time consuming - ongoing
- An agile method to prepare for automation
- Estimate your ROI upfront
- Example case studies
- Common Integrations