IT and Ecommerce: CIO’s Guide to a Bulletproof Investment

15 January 2024

This article was originally featured in ERP SoftwareBlog

The Chief Information Officer (CIO) has one of the most critical jobs in any organization. The IT department he or she oversees is responsible for the swift, reliable, uninterrupted flow of business data between the company’s various systems.

Often, these systems and the connections between them are incredibly complex. Take the relationship between an ecommerce platform and an ERP. Both systems have much of the same information: data on orders, customers, and inventory. When a new order comes in, or a warehouse quantity changes, this data must update on both systems to ensure accuracy.

Multiply that by all the orders, invoices, inventory adjustments, new customers, updated customers, regional sales tax charges, and shipping costs an online business manages, and you’ll have a sense of the challenges involved.

As a company considers investing in ecommerce, it becomes imperative for the CIO to align IT and ecommerce strategies. During this process, the focus is on identifying specific platform features that optimize data flow and enhance system flexibility. Careful review of the ecommerce solution’s capabilities will not only ensure quicker deployment and improved operations but will foster long-term growth and ultimately lead to a much greater ROI. (Along with a much happier CIO.)

Here are a few features your IT team should be looking for:

Cloud Hosting

Cloud technology changes up the traditional model of computing. Rather than installing software individually on every machine that runs it, machines access and run the software over the internet. Cloud hosting is the basis of ERPs like Microsoft Dynamics 365, which companies can operate entirely through Microsoft’s cloud service.

Futureproofing Your Business with Cloud Hosting

Some companies are understandably nervous about not hosting their ERP or ecommerce platform on their own physical servers. But from an IT perspective, cloud hosting presents immense advantages that are hard to compete with.

The first is availability. When a company’s private server goes down, anything hosted on it goes down, too: website, ERP and all. By contrast, giant cloud services like Microsoft Azure are practically invulnerable and virtually always online. So even when your local network is having infrastructural problems, all your vital business processes remain untouchable on the cloud.

But CIOs also see the cloud as an investment in the company’s future. As your online business expands, acquiring new customers and launching new products, your hosting needs also grow. When these needs come up against the physical limitations of your server, complex (and expensive) hardware upgrades are inevitable.

On the cloud, sustaining continual business growth is just as easy as scaling up your bandwidth requirements.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

Software as a Service (Saas) goes hand-in-glove with cloud hosting. SaaS is effectively a software “rental,” or subscription. Rather than purchasing the software outright, you pay for use of the software at a recurring rate.

The Synergy of Cloud Hosting and Software as a Service (SaaS)

As with cloud hosting, this can seem like a strange concept at first glance. But it carries significant advantages. To the opposite of traditional software models where you first install and then configure, with SaaS the application is already installed and pre-configured.

This simplifies many of the most complex onboarding issues companies face and can dramatically shorten deployment times.

Software updates are another major advantage to the SaaS model. When the developers update the software, the update becomes available to all the customers using it. Businesses can implement the update without the infrastructural hassles and expense that usually accompany new releases.

This, in turn, makes it easy for the company to stay current with the latest version and take advantage of up-to-date security, compatibility and features.

It’s also worth mentioning that SaaS generally features lower licensing costs (due to multi-tenant cloud environments). This opens the software to small and medium businesses that couldn’t afford it with a traditional license.

PCI Certification

It doesn’t take a CIO to know that a data breach can be catastrophic for a company. In addition to any direct financial losses the company suffers, it loses the trust of its customers, and can even be liable for damages resulting from the data theft.

A Crucial Factor in Ensuring Cardholder Data Security

Since 2006, the major credit card companies have maintained a set of requirements and guidelines designed to ensure the security of cardholder data. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) covers every aspect of credit card security, from network architecture to office visitation policies. And the payment card industry updates PCI-DSS every year to answer the latest threats.

PCI Level One Certification proves that software, service, or environment meets the rigorous requirements of PCI-DSS. But obtaining PCI Certification is an expensive process that can take months and needs to be repeated every single year.

As such, CIOs look for solutions that are already PCI certified (and are committed to renewing their certification). This allows your company to take advantage of the ironclad security PCI certification offers without having to obtain it yourself.

(Note that PCI certified software doesn’t remove the responsibility of the company using it to remain compliant with PCI protocols.)

ERP Integration

We began this discussion with the example of order management. When a business gets a new order on their web store, the staff has to copy this order to the ERP. When new stock comes in, they must enter the quantities into the ERP as well as the web store. Otherwise, customers won’t see accurate product availability.

The Indispensable Role of ERP Integration in Ecommerce Platforms

The same is true of price line changes and every other data point shared by both systems. When you update it in one place, you have to update in both. This is not only time-consuming, but worse, it opens the door to potentially costly mistakes.

That’s why top CIOs won’t even consider an ecommerce platform that doesn’t offer ERP integration.

ERP integration allows your systems to communicate directly and share data back and forth. That way, when you make an adjustment in one system, it automatically updates the other. When an order comes in, all the critical information transfers to the ERP. Likewise, the invoice transfers back to the web store from the ERP.

Pricing, products, inventory, customer contact information and other shared data also updates automatically. This greatly simplifies the process of managing all this information, resulting in a sustainable, scalable ecommerce investment.

Final Thoughts: Strategic IT and Ecommerce Integration for Long-Term Success

In summary, the role of a Chief Information Officer (CIO) is critical for ensuring efficient data flow in complex business systems, particularly in the realms of IT and ecommerce. Key considerations for selecting an ecommerce platform include cloud hosting for reliability and scalability, Software as a Service (SaaS) for streamlined deployment and updates, PCI Certification for data security, and ERP integration to automate data synchronization.

Prioritizing these features not only enhances current operations but also lays the groundwork for sustained growth in the dynamic landscapes of IT and ecommerce. This strategic approach promises a higher return on investment and ensures a contented CIO, recognizing the vital role technology plays in the success of IT and ecommerce initiatives.