As an eCommerce company grows, operations become increasingly complex. Different systems and technology is needed for different stages in a company's growth. This guest blog post from VL Omni tackles how to integrate data and systems, including outlining approaches data integration.

Data integration requires a great deal of effort to keep up as a successful online merchant: meeting customer demands, keeping abreast and implementing new innovative technologies, and ultimately staying competitive. Maintaining a strategic edge means staying ahead, and data integration has come to establish itself as a core approach critical to achieving more in your business.

This article is going to look at a number of important elements around data integration, including the benefits of being able to view organization data holistically, but we’ll first start by defining data integration.

But if there’s one core take-away from this article, it’s that merchants need to adopt a strategy and match it against the appropriate integration approach before sourcing solutions or implementation. If you want to transform your data into something meaningful and valuable then adopting a strategy is Step 1.

What is Data Integration?

A broad definition of data integration is ‘the process of combining or merging data from disparate sources.’

As an example, once the data is extracted from a source application (like an ERP, CRM, or Marketplace) it is transformed into a consistent format before being sent to a target(s). But it’s important to understand that data integration is not one-size-fits-all; there’s no single, magical application out there that automate data effectively for every single merchant out there, but instead merchants have to find the best solution for their needs and goals. There are several approaches to data integration, each one tailored to unique business needs at a specific stage in their growth.

Five approaches to data integration:

1. Manual Data Entry

Have you ever seen a person sitting in front of a computer transcribing information from a piece of paper to a computer? Well, that is exactly what manual data entry is, sometimes called “manual data integration”—an oxymoron. If you are a small business with very little data to process, then this option might be suitable for you as it might decrease expenditures and keep the business lean. On the other hand, manual data entry is prone to human errors like typos. It’s key to balance out the return on investment.  

2. Plug-and-Play

Think of this process like an app you download onto your phone. That application fulfills a need, but you can't change the restrictions or framework of the application to fit exactly what you need. This approach to data integration is more like one-size-fits-all. If your business is small to medium size with minor complexities within your supply chain, then this could be a good option for your business while you focus on other things. But if your business is more complex and your strategy is to grow your business, then this solution can be constraining. It’s best to plan ahead for a succession plan on the next step up in terms of data integration if you continue to scale.

3. DIY (Do It Yourself)

This approach to data integration involves a ton of manual hardcoding of the actual integrations themselves. So, everytime you want to make changes or add a new integration or channel, you’re stuck hardcoding each new project. This solution may work if you have a large IT team that has the capacity to handle hardcoded integrations and the extensive maintenance, including thorough documentation. But, this approach isn’t always effective—it is structurally rigid as it is built in a static point of time.

4. Manual File Upload and Download

Remember Dropbox? This approach is similar. An individual is responsible for manually downloading and uploading files between applications as a means to feign automated data movement. Think of this approach as a digital version of manual data entry discussed earlier. This is a fitting option for businesses that are small with few sales and transaction volumes. But, in the long haul, this solution can constrain your growth; when you reach a growth inflection an upgrade to something more sustainable at scale will most definitely be in order.  

5. Data Integration As A Service (iPaaS)

If you want agility, flexibility, and efficiency then this is the way to go. An iPaaS approach is suitable for businesses that do not have their own IT team but are actively growing and scaling upwards. If you are an SMB to  enterprise-level business with complexities within your back-end technology stack and/or a high volume of transactions, this is the ideal solution. iPaaS solutions like VL OMNI’s platform can modify integrations in real-time while the business evolves, meaning that changes can be applied in the background without having to disrupt operations. This all comes with strategic consultation to configure integration to business rules while arranging everything to maximize agility and ongoing scalability for the business.

On top of that, businesses shouldn’t have to change their infrastructure to adapt to the solution. Rather, iPaaS solutions like VL OMNI ensure that business’ requirements for the treatment of the data are applied directly to the data as it moves, and not vice versa, leaving someone to manually complete what should have been completely automated. Similar to VL OMNI’s platform, iPaaS solutions don’t constrain your growth, rather promote flexibility to help your business scale seamlessly while managing the complexities of your business and improving customer experience. No more sacrificing volume over velocity: iPaaS solutions like VL OMNI build solutions that can move data at volume and velocity.

If you want to scale, an iPaaS approach is the solution.

Why Do You Need Data Integration?

Understanding that data integration involves a variety of approaches is only the first part of the equation; the second is understanding why and how data integration can benefit your business. In this day and age, commerce is accelerating, expectations are increasing, and staying ahead is becoming more challenging—finding an edge is key. Most top players in the industry use data integration holistically as a step towards better business performance. Below are a few of the several benefits associated with data integration solutions:

1. Business Performance

Unifying the distribution of data throughout your organization in an organized and strategic way provides you with a unified view of business performance. Better data throughout your organization flowing in accordance with your own business’ specific requirements also improves visibility into operations and customer satisfaction. If you are an omnichannel, ecommerce, or business that does EDI (bricks-and-mortar), VL OMNI’s solutions are tailored to your needs to increase business performance.

2. Access to the Data

Data integration paths provide better accessibility to your data and its unique value to your business. The process of data integration gives your data context by providing a unified view of the data originating from disparate sources while also facilitating the insight of aggregated data that was previously unable to be analyzed. VL OMNI’s point-to-multipoint data integration platform seamlessly moves data through your business’ infrastructure to help you grow, accelerate and expand.

3. Monitoring the Data

A data integration platform allows you to combine not only structured data but also unstructured data coming from internal and external sources—further reinforcing the unified view of business processes. Providing a comprehensive view is only the surface; it also allows you to better monitor the data and what it communicates. VL OMNI’s integrations are able to move data within real-time using webhooks or through a batch-based system depending on your unique business needs, allowing you full control over your data.

4. Minimize Meaningless Big Data

When you have data plainly sitting in your system doing nothing, then it’s fruitless as it doesn’t tell you anything! Data integration instead helps to interpret and make sense of this big data living in your organization. Information is meaningless if it cannot be retrieved, transformed, and meshed into a meaningful picture of your business.

5. Data Silos

Data integration solves the issue of having important information housed in separate, closed-off data sources or applications. In this day and age, cross-functionality is important—after all, what good is just storing data if these sources do not sync information with other applications. Data integration mitigates data silos by consolidating communications between different applications.  

Overall, in today's fast-paced commerce world, simple data movements from point A to B are simply not enough anymore. Strategic thinking must be applied to your chosen approach to data integration in order to achieve your business's long term goals. Again, the first and most important step towards data integrations is to adopt a strategy and approach before considering which data integration approach is right for you. Data integration is no longer a one-size-fits-all industry, but rather a mosaic of uniquely tailored approaches based on different merchant objectives. Ultimately, adopting an iPaaS data integration approach like VL OMNI promotes the most flexibility and scalability to improve business performance for SMBs and Enterprises without internal IT departments, giving you the unique edge needed to scale!

About VL OMNI

VL OMNI is a iPaaS point-to-multipoint serverless data integration platform able to capture business rules for a fully automated supply chain and technology stack. Extend the reach of your business with VL OMNI while maintaining agility and scalability. VL OMNI is fully EU-GDPR compliant.

Learn more at www.VLOMNI.com

Guest Contributor
August 20, 2019