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Digitization, successful digital commerce

Unified Commerce with AS/400 and Co.

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Unified commerce is when commerce is automated and functions seamlessly across all channels, business processes and system boundaries. But what happens when ERP classics such as AS/400 have to communicate with modern web store systems? In many cases, the necessary bridge can be built with a central data hub.

For unified commerce to succeed, modern web store solutions are needed on the one hand as a store window and counter to the customer, and on the other hand, powerful IT systems that support the classic ERP tasks in the company and thus ensure consistent and efficient value creation processes. Often, however, both sides come from different technology generations and do not speak the same language: Web store systems such as Shopware, Magento or Shopify here, ERP classics such as IBM AS/400 or iSeries there. How can both worlds be intelligently networked so that the full retail potential can be exploited across the channels?

Why is it worth it?

Digital commerce has long been the norm in the B2C market. Many manufacturers and retailers - especially in sectors such as apparel and electronics - therefore use their own online channels in addition to brick-and-mortar retail in a Direct2Customer (D2C) model to sell their products themselves. Others are thinking about this in the wake of the Corona crisis because they want to broaden their base and thus make their business more crisis-proof. In the B2B segment, e-commerce is developing more slowly, but here, too, it can help to easily automate industrial supply chains for standard products and spare parts, for example, and to address new target groups. Everyone faces the challenge of dovetailing classic ERP functions with modern e-commerce in such a way that the desired channels can be used and served with efficient processes. What does it take to turn an IT architecture into a powerful unified commerce environment?

Unified Commerce: What it takes

Digital commerce is much more than just opening or using your own web store. For all online channels to function efficiently, as well as the stationary sales channels, it also requires, for example, systematic management of product data and information, which starts with very simple characteristics, but - depending on the market segment - also includes necessary technical specifications and certifications, and also includes consistent brand-compliant images and product descriptions - possibly in multiple languages. Much of this data is typically distributed across different IT systems in the company. It must be pulled from ERP systems, accounting solutions, or marketing applications and collected, converted, and delivered in the desired format for automated product data uploads to online portals.

Central data hub for data transformation

Especially for companies that still successfully work with very old ERP systems like AS/400 or iSeries, it makes sense to use a central data hub like the Actindo Datahub for data communication on system level as well as for the management of product data and information. It acts like a central data hub within an IT architecture:

Here, information from the various systems is stored centrally and automatically converted into required formats using a multi-level data mapping process and enriched with additional data so that it is easily available for use in other target systems in real time. Data from AS/400 or iSeries systems, for example, can also be easily imported and exported in CSV format at regular intervals via such a data hub using automator jobs, so that data flow and business processes can be run in a simple manner across all systems in a continuous and largely automated manner.

Addressing customer segments precisely

The IT architecture of an Actindo customer shows how companies can successfully serve different customer segments with their products through a targeted omnichannel strategy:

The company from the clothing industry is represented internationally with several thousand stationary points of sale and simultaneously serves its own online brand stores, well-known fashion platforms and a B2B channel for corporate clothing.

The IT architecture for this omnichannel strategy essentially has three levels:

  • The first level includes specialized systems such as IBM AS/400 for production support, SAP Financials for accounting, and solutions for warehouse management and business analytics.
  • On the middle level, the central Actindo data hub, together with the Unified Commerce Suite, ensures the preparation of data and processes for the connection of online channels. From here, platforms such as Tradebyte, Zalando, Amazon and Otto are directly populated with product data. From here, the company's own web store, implemented with Shopware, is also fed with product information and localized for numerous European countries.
  • A subshop of the master store also functions as a B2B platform and allows corporate customers to order their corporate clothing with individual logo embroidery directly online.

When all systems interact in this way, the value-added processes can be seamlessly and automatically interlinked. The result is unified commerce that serves both the customer and the supplier - and in which AS/400 and iSeries play just as important a role as modern web store systems.

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