Understanding System Integrations for Seamless DTC Operations
Originally published on October 14, 2022 by Erhan Musaoglu, Updated on May 29, 2023
Take a moment to consider the various software systems and tools needed to run your warehouse and achieve high-volume fulfillment. Do they all effectively work together to share essential information and boost operational efficiency? Or have you been completing individual, manual tasks to ensure vital data is transferred across your software tools and platforms?
This is where system integrations come into play.
System integrations may seem daunting to understand and execute, but they are critical for getting all the parts of your business to communicate and operate efficiently with each other. In this article, we will discuss system connectivity, how the different types of integrations work, and common challenges to keep in mind when factoring in your WMS.
In This Guide, We’ll Look At
Understanding the Basics of System Integrations
Integration happens when two or more systems share information and exchange data to execute a specific process. This bridging of solutions is key to simplifying fulfillment operations, especially when it comes to streamlining warehouse functions, ensuring accuracy and managing fulfillment costs.
Successful system integrations save complex fulfillment operations time and money while improving customer and client service levels. They seamlessly distribute vital data throughout your organization and technologies in a timely manner so that workflows can continue without disruptions.
Integrations can happen in two ways: by passing information in one direction or by exchanging information back and forth (bi-directional). In any integration, one system serves as the source of information, and the other serves as the target. In the WMS world, most integrations are bi-directional, with one system serving as a “master.”
Common Types of System Integrations
For a successful WMS implementation, you must understand connectivity and how your various systems will need to work together. That way, you can review your requirements, understand your use cases, and avoid costly system integration mistakes.
For your DTC fulfillment business, there are two specific types of integrations you’ll likely come across: some basic, and some which are much more complicated. Let’s talk through the most common types of system integrations, as well as how they relate to your WMS specifically.
Prebuilt connectors are the simplest form of integration and are achieved by copying data to the two platforms. Set-up is pretty simple but can lack flexibility. If something changes in one system, the integration will likely stop working altogether.
Custom integrations are built from scratch, making them very powerful so long as the right APIs (application program interfaces) are in place. The downside to custom integrations is the time, experience, and tools needed to complete them successfully.
Overview of APIs for System Integration
Systems use APIs to exchange information. Imagine that your software platform is an office building for a business. The business has several different groups and departments, all with different functions, carrying out separate actions to keep your business running. APIs are like the phone numbers that allow you to reach each of those various departments.
Depending on whom you’re calling, you can request different actions by exchanging information with the receiver on the other end of your phone call. You might call the sales department to place an order, or contact the shipping department to get a status update on an existing order. You can call the support department to delete or update an order, and so on and so forth.
That said, you can only do these things if the following statements are true:
- You’re authorized to make the request.
- You’ve called the correct department.
- You provide the information that the receiver is expecting.
APIs work exactly the same way. A source system will send information to a target system, and then the target system will perform an action – but only if you are authorized to request it, you’ve contacted the right end-point, and you’ve provided the required information.
APIs run on triggers and events. Events can be something like a record being updated, or a record being created. These events trigger an integration to act, much like making a phone call to another department.
APIs and WMS Systems
So how do APIs and your WMS software work together to support fulfillment operations? One of the most common system integrations in the WMS environment runs like this:
A customer places an order through an ecommerce site.
- The purchase causes a trigger for the ecommerce system to send a request through the API to your WMS.
- Your WMS will respond to the ecommerce system acknowledging receipt and acceptance of the order.
- Your WMS will allocate the inventory and appropriate tasks for your warehouse staff to fulfill the order.
- Once the inventory is allocated, your WMS will request the ecommerce API to say that the inventory has changed.
Now that you have a foundational understanding of how APIs are used by a WMS, let’s discuss how to best make them work.
Mapping WMS Systems
It’s important to remember that every software platform is different, and definitions are essential in system integrations. Mapping allows you to translate the often similar-looking data between the two systems. For example, orders may be a standard record between your ERP and WMS, but each system has a slightly different set of attributes.
Some systems don’t store the same type of data—credit card information, for example—so not all systems can handle that data. It’s important to know what limitations the systems you want to integrate have before you begin your integration process.
Common Use Cases and Challenges with System Integrations
Understanding the use cases and common challenges of potential WMS integrations will help you better evaluate the viability of software platforms and the return on investment of connecting them.
Common system integrations across inbound processes could include receiving sales orders for fulfillment (order system to WMS), sending inventory levels (WMS to order system), and getting item information and SKUs for effective picking (order system to WMS).
Common challenges with inbound integrations to plan for, include:
- ERP customizability can cause limitations when both systems don’t have the same ability to store essential data. Prebuilt connections can often become outdated quickly.
- The speed at which your integrations communicate data can cause problems if triggers aren’t fast enough, causing over-selling or missed orders.
- Data discrepancies (part of the data mapping process) can happen when data is mismatched between two systems or if the system is used in an atypical way.
For outbound processes, common integrations with carriers and shipping platforms include getting shipping rates (WMS to shipping system), getting the correct data to create and print shipping labels (WMS to shipping system), and canceling shipping labels (WMS to shipping system).
Common challenges with outbound system integrations to plan for, include:
- Not all shipping providers have the same functionality, such as canceling labels.
- Your WMS may not have the correct data your shipping provider requires (again, data mapping is vital!).
The use cases don’t stop there. Users can also use integrations with reporting tools and warehouse robotics platforms, or create custom-built applications within their systems. The challenges associated with advanced integrations include the complexity of the requests, whether the system can handle them, or if a custom-built integration doesn’t have an API that’s robust enough to handle the demands.
How Logiwa Approaches System Integrations
You don’t need to be an IT professional to understand data flow. Most SaaS applications have pre-built connectors to ensure integrations are as easy as possible. The key is defining which connections make the most sense for your system and fulfillment operations.
Logiwa’s team helps customers navigate the complexities of integrations to ensure each and every system connection is operating successfully and reaching their full potential. That includes custom integrations, ERP customization to support data mapping, and providing support documentation to help with challenges that may arise.
Working with the Logiwa team will help ensure your integrations function correctly, and provide you with the data and information you need to run a successful DTC fulfillment operation. Check out Logiwa’s QuickTake webinar, “Demystifying Integration Ecosystems for DTC Operations” to learn more.
Curious to learn more about system integrations and how they work with your WMS? Contact a member of our team, and request a free consultation today.