Your SAP ERP system ensures every department always has access to the data they need to make smart decisions. Here’s how SAP-integrated e-commerce lets you take the same approach to your online sales channel.
SAP is one of the business-critical systems that enables you to keep your organization running at optimal efficiency. Depending on your industry, it could be where you manage business-critical logic and data concerning, ordering processes, accounting, supply chain management, procurement management, supply relationship management and more.
It’s this flexibility that has helped SAP become a leader in the enterprise software market. It creates powerful software that can be tailored to perfectly support a wide variety of organizations, from mid-sized companies operating locally to multinational companies with complex international supply chains.
In order to fully understand why, we first need to dive deeper into the history of SAP as a company.
The History of SAP
SAP is one of the major players in today’s IT world, and they have their roots in another computing giant: IBM.
In 1972, five IBM employees left the company to realize their dream: creating standardized, real-time software. That might sound a bit obvious today, but at the time it was unprecedented. This was a time when enterprises were working with punch cards and tapes, with batches being processed at night instead of immediately after a user request.
And so SAP Systemanalyse und Programmentwicklung (System Analysis and Program Development) was born.
During the company’s first year, the five founders spent much of their time in their first customers’ data centers developing their system. As explained in this video about SAP’s history, the SAP team embedded themselves within a company for first-hand insight into actual operations. This helped SAP understand how they could create software that would help people do their jobs.
The tactic paid off: SAP RF was completed in just nine months. This accounting system would form the cornerstone of SAP R/1, making it the first step toward the ERP system that are used by hundreds of thousands of companies worldwide today.
The Importance of Integration
In 1975, SAP customers were able to use the enterprise resource planning software to do more than just their accounting. The SAP RM system also supported inventory management, purchasing and invoice verification, all thanks to integration: data from one process is immediately available for use in another.
This real-time exchange of information offered companies unprecedented efficiency by ensuring separate departments had access to the same data at the same time. So what does this mean for actual operations?
Sales representatives can always see the latest inventory levels, for instance, preventing sales of out-of-stock items. Purchasers don’t accidentally place canceled orders because they aren’t notified in time. In short, there is real-time alignment between the different departments that simply wasn’t feasible when organizations had to rely on punch card technology and overnight batch processing. Always having access to the right data helps employees make smarter decisions, work more efficiently, and realize considerable cost savings.
And it’s this very same concept that underlies the seamless integration between Sana Commerce and SAP.
Integration Is Key for ERPs — and E-Commerce
There are two key ingredients that let SAP provide this real-time insight across departments: real-time integration and the fact that it acts as a single source of truth. Sana Commerce, our SAP-integrated e-commerce software, uses the same two elements to let you optimize your online sales.
Using ERP data to power web stores isn’t a new concept. Here at Sana, the idea to create a standardized solution for ERP-integrated web stores was born from frequent requests from clients to deliver fully integrated e-commerce solutions for ERP systems, from SAP to Microsoft Dynamics. Which makes sense, of course: if you rely on your sales representatives to place and create orders for clients, then you want to make sure they have access to the latest product and inventory data.
If you want sales representatives and clients alike to place orders through your web store, don’t you want to make sure that the information they see is retrieved directly from your ERP system? E-commerce platforms designed to truly integrate with SAP let you make this a reality.
SAP-Integrated E-Commerce: How It Works
Your ERP system is extremely complex. There is a lot of data and logic stored there that you need to use if you want your web store to accurately reflect all your commercial processes.
- Detailed and extensive product specifications
- Inventory levels
- Tax calculations
- Shipping fees
- Customer agreements
- Tier pricing
And much more, contingent on your industry. This level of information generally isn’t required for web stores focusing solely on consumers, so an ERP connection isn’t always necessary there. But despite the ongoing consumerization of online B2B sales, professional buyers still have quite different information needs compared to consumers — it’s just that they want to view this information in attractive, responsive and lightning-fast web stores.
So you face the challenge of making large amounts of data from your ERP available in your web store, without sacrificing the look and feel or the performance of your web store. There are several ways to do this, which can generally be divided into two categories: integrated solutions, which use ERP data natively, and interfaced solutions, which have their own table structure.
Interfaced SAP E-Commerce Solutions
An interfaced SAP web store is not the same as a truly integrated e-commerce solution.
Interfaced web store software relies on multiple connections to the SAP system in order to retrieve all the relevant data. This is unnecessarily complex, as more connections require more maintenance — and also provide more opportunities for errors to sneak in. However, these aren’t the only downsides to this kind of ‘integration.’
The real problem is that interfaced solutions don’t leverage the massive amount of time, effort and other resources you invested in perfecting your SAP setup. You went to great lengths to ensure that your ERP system perfectly supports your business processes, whether they’re completely standardized or truly unique.
If you add a standalone e-commerce platform that can only connect through interfacing, it means that you have to set up your carefully crafted processes again in this second system.
This means that there is no clear division of labor: the interfaced e-commerce solution tries to do the same as your SAP system. This means double the work and double the maintenance — and an increased risk of errors.
Compare it to hiring two people to do the same job. One is highly specialized, extremely competent, and has fully adapted to your company’s processes and needs. The other is more of a generalist: they aren’t as good as your data processing A-player when it comes to the core tasks, but they have a useful additional skill. However, instead of using your A-player’s work to carry out their additional tasks, they try to redo everything themselves. Not only that, but you will also need to enlist even more help: administrative staff to take care of manual data entry and updates to product information, for instance.
The results: redundant work, additional salary costs, and subpar results.
Integrated E-Commerce for SAP
Truly integrated web store solutions for SAP take a completely different approach. We’ll explain how using our own integrated e-commerce software, Sana Commerce, as an example.
Sana Commerce doesn’t try to recreate your business logic and data — why would it, when SAP does such an excellent job at managing it? Instead of trying to do double work, Sana Commerce lets SAP perform the calculations and save the data, acting as your single source of truth. All Sana Commerce does is retrieve the data and display it in the web store.
This is done using a single connection. The Sana Commerce connector is installed within SAP ERP. Each connector is designed specifically for the ERP, ensuring that it speaks the same language — in this case, ABAP. This allows for efficient exchange of data in real time, without affecting your ERP system’s performance.
(Or without compromising on data security. For more information about how to ensure your e-commerce platform has sufficient data protection measures in place, make sure to read our blog about information security for ERP-integrated e-commerce.)
Our product experts explain the connection as follows: if an interfaced solution needs to send a message to (or receive a message from) SAP, it creates a new envelope for each message. On the contrary, a truly integrated solution only needs a single envelope, which can contain multiple messages.
Because all data and business logic is stored in one location and one location only, you no longer have to perform the same maintenance and updates on two different systems. And the same is true of the single connection used for true integration versus the myriad connections needed to set up an interfaced solution.
Or to continue the employee analogy: instead of hiring a specialist and a generalist to do almost the same work, you are hiring two specialists to focus on two different areas of expertise. Your data processing A-player simply hands over their completed work to your dedicated online sales employee who is specialized in providing a great buying experience for your clients.
This clear division of labor lets your SAP system and your e-commerce solution shine by doing what they do best.
The Importance of Real Time
The real-time nature of SAP’s integration was one of the things that helped the system stand out. And once again, this is something reflected in truly integrated e-commerce software for SAP systems.
When you’re implementing an e-commerce system, the success of the project is determined by whether your new online sales channel offers at least the same experience as your other channels — whether it’s placing orders via email, fax, or even calling your sales representatives directly.
This means that your challenge is to provide all the information they need to find the product that meets their requirements and complete the order — all without your assistance. After all, if they still need to get in touch to ask questions, they may as well save themselves the effort by placing the order with your sales representative directly.
This means data displayed in your web store must be flawless. So no rekeying errors, something which is covered if your e-commerce solution integrates with SAP. But above all, it has to be the most recent data.
A lot can happen in an hour — or even in five minutes. You don’t want your clients to face the disappointment of finding out at checkout that their desired item is no longer in stock.
Contrary to what your web store said before.
With our own SAP-integrated e-commerce solution, we prioritized real-time insight into the data that matters to you and your clients. Inventory levels, product data, pricing — your web store users work with the same data as your sales representatives. Always.
There is another way that a real-time connection can benefit your business.
Consider this: as consumers, we’re used to instant gratification when we order online. When we purchase a digital product, we can usually download it straight away, or it’s automatically delivered to our device of choice. And more and more vendors are offering same-day delivery for physical products, too.
Speed matters. Streamlining your fulfilment in every way possible — including minimizing time-consuming admin tasks — is an essential part of meeting growing client expectations.
We already explained that an integrated e-commerce solution for SAP allows for efficient exchange of data. This goes both ways: SAP data is displayed in the web store, and orders from the web store are automatically entered in SAP. When your sales representatives start up their computers at 9 a.m., they won’t have to wade through an inbox full of sales order emails and manually rekey everything into the ERP. They’re already there, ready and waiting to be processed.
Sooner rather than later. Exactly what your clients want.
… And the Impact on Performance
But what does this mean for the performance of your web store and your SAP system? The last thing you want is to overload your ERP with non-stop requests for information.
A good web store not only provides the information clients need, it also offers a good customer experience. There are many aspects to this — clear product images and intuitive navigation for instance.
But also site speed.
According to Kissmetrics, 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less, and 40% abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. If you’re a B2B company, you might have a bit more leeway, but again, with the ongoing consumerization of B2B sales you do have to keep these metrics in mind.
But it’s not just your web store that has to maintain speed. You don’t want to overload your SAP ERP or SAP Business One system, either. A painfully slow system will slow down your entire organization — not to mention cause frustration among your colleagues.
So how do you balance your clients’ need for real-time insight into ERP data with performance considerations?
When developing Sana Commerce, we solved this question by ensuring that our SAP-integrated e-commerce software only goes to the ERP for the bare necessities.
Take product information, for example. This is downloaded once, in bulk. After that, instead of constantly checking for updates, the data is only updated in the web store when it is edited in the SAP system. Edited items are added to a list, and these lists are updated at a predetermined interval.
When a client navigates to a product overview, the only thing requested from the ERP in real time is the inventory and price information. This is most prone to change, either due to other sales taking place at the same time or customer-specific pricing conditions. This way, you can ensure your clients have access to accurate information, without overwhelming your ERP.
How You and Your Clients Benefit From SAP-Integrated E-Commerce
The advantages of integrated SAP e-commerce solutions over interfaced software are clear. But how does this ERP-driven approach to online sales actually affect your business? There are many benefits of integration, but in our experience, they can be divided into six categories — three of which we’ll discuss now.
If you’re interested in exploring all the benefits, you can download a free copy of our white paper on the benefits of integration. If a summary is enough, read on.
Easy-to-Navigate Online Product Catalogs
Straightforward, efficient navigation is a key part of usability for any web store, but it’s especially relevant if you have a large product catalog, as is common among B2B companies such as manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors. When your clients search for a specific item among thousands (or even tens of thousands), your web store’s navigation can make or break their user experience.
SAP-integrated e-commerce software uses the product data stored in your ERP to provide the fastest path to the items your clients need. For instance, Sana Commerce uses product attributes as defined in the ERP to offer faceted search, making it easy to find an item that ticks all the boxes.
Complex composite products are another common e-commerce challenge for B2B vendors. You want to display them clearly, ensure that clients can order them in one go, but also make it easy for them to purchase individual items.
ERP integration can help here too.
Web stores integrated with SAP use the ERP data to combine individual products into a sellable unit. When a client purchases it, the individual items can be displayed as separate line items. Meanwhile, it’s also possible to order individual items, without ordering the whole kit.
Finally, you want to use all the relevant product data from your ERP — that includes product images. A strong integrated web store will let you do this too.
What this means in practice is that your clients are able to find the exact items they need without having to call your sales department for assistance. Moreover, they can also use your web store to look up product information as they research the best solution, even if they’re not ready to purchase just yet. They can place orders whenever they want, without having to rely on the availability of your sales staff — who in turn spend less time answering straightforward questions and more time on more in-depth talks with clients.
Complex Pricing Simplified
Pricing is another area where B2B web stores are put through their paces more than their consumer-focused counterparts. That’s one of the strengths of an ERP system like SAP: it lets you register complex pricing rules that take many different variables into account.
SAP-integrated e-commerce solutions use the processing power of your ERP system to ensure that the pricing displayed in your web store is always accurate, without having to maintain complex business logic in two locations. This means that you can rest assured your clients will always see the right price, whether you’re offering tier pricing, discounts triggered by order value, or even customer-specific pricing.
It’s not just discounts that are displayed accurately though: any sales tax or VAT calculations defined in the ERP are also reflected, along with additional fees such as service costs and shipping.
Because prices in your web store always match the prices your sales reps provide, clients with custom pricing agreements can place orders online without worrying about not getting the best price. After all, your online sales channel lets them follow their regular procurement processes — including all their regular discounts.
Online Order Processing
The raison d’être of any web store is to provide a convenient online sales channel that saves time for both you and your clients. A web store built to integrate with SAP does this, but also goes the extra mile by providing a level of efficiency and convenience that’s simply out of reach for interfaced or standalone solutions.
The real-time exchange of information between SAP and the web store means that clients have immediate insight into product data saved in your ERP, as we mentioned above. However, it also means they can view their account information — and with Sana Commerce, that includes data pertaining to all orders placed through all channels, not just through the web store. These orders can be used for quick reordering, bringing all clients a step closer to the ease and convenience EDI offers, even if they might not be big enough to warrant a full-blow electronic data interchange implementation.
Instant data validation is something else the real-time connection makes possible. This is also available in Sana Commerce: data entered via the web store is checked against data stored in SAP to ensure it’s correct.
This of course doesn’t mean all orders are perfect — there’s always room for human error. You’re only one click away from ordering the wrong amount of a certain product, for instance. Luckily, Sana Commerce also lets clients quickly edit orders that haven’t been processed yet directly in the web store. So even orders placed outside office hours can be fixed without having to hope that a sales representative happens to be available.
Another way web stores for SAP ERP can streamline communication with your clients is by supporting comments. For example: Sana web stores display comments made in the ERP on both the order or individual line item level. Not only that, but clients can add their own comments, which are immediately reflected in the ERP.
A web store isn’t meant to phase out all contact between your sales representatives and your clients. But why bother trying to reach each other via phone if a simple comment can suffice?
It’s like the common worries about getting started with online marketplaces. They aren’t meant to cannibalize your sales team’s efforts. Instead, it’s about providing a supplementary service for clients who don’t need that personal interaction — or at least not as much as they need speed and convenience.
And at the end of the day, it means spending less time keying orders into SAP. Who wouldn’t want that?
See SAP-Integrated E-Commerce in Action
Curious to see how your business can benefit from integrated e-commerce for SAP? Take a look at our client success stories. Take Basiq Dental for instance: download your copy of their story to find out how they use SAP as the engine of their powerful, user-friendly web store.