The Critical B2B eCommerce Functions of a Middleware API Layer


301

Connection is key

The middleware layer of any B2B company's eCommerce platform drives the processes of integration, customization and incorporating external resources. Without a robust middleware layer and development to integrate ERP and CRM systems and customize traditional software eCommerce features, companies with large catalogs and customer-facing applications wouldn't be able to automate processes, provide customers with their own displays and pricing tiers, remember purchasing histories, calculate customs and duties and perform other critical business operations in real-time. Unified business functions run on custom APIs, and generating them and connecting them to other software services can generate real-time updates across an organization,empower staff, vendors and stakeholders and foster a collaborative, interactive eCommerce platform experience.

For want of a better metaphor, imagine an old-fashioned telephone switchboard where an operator connects internal and external signals so that phone calls can come in or go out. The middleware layer is like one of those switchboards for software applications, internal databases and third-party Internet connections, but the switching is done automatically at great speed that's almost instantaneous. The classic telephone switchboard might be small and rather limited when used to screen calls and guard access to senior executives' phones, or it could service every office in a huge complex like the Pentagon or an entire city. The more connections that B2B companies need for integrating with third-party resources and client infrastructures, the greater the need for robust middleware or greater “switchboard capabilities.” B2B customers are more demanding and comparing multiple price quotes, watching product videos, checking whitepapers and investigating supply chains. About 49 percent of buyers conduct their research on their phones even while at work, so middleware integrations become increasingly important to user experiences and business success.[1]

Robust capabilities of the middleware layer

Most eCommerce platforms are advanced enough to handle routine information transfers for simple online stores, and these can be used to integrate ERP and CRM systems for real-time updates throughout the system. However, a robust system can handle multiple kinds of integrations that include connecting older versions of software, business intelligence programs, open source programs, customer address verifications, multiple payment options and tools for complying with mandatory security regulations and best practices guidelines. Two-tier server systems can't handle always provide real-time data at the right times, which is the basis for a robust and user-friendly B2B eCommerce platform. Useful platforms get results because 70 percent of mobile searches result in user actions within an hour.[2]

ERP software options include many appealing next-generation features and benefits, but it's critical that B2B eCommerce companies integrate their software into the platforms’ middleware layer to manage business data instead of changing its operations to meet the demands of software. Robust middleware layers offer greater flexibility for customizing ERP software and expanding sales channels and customer-facing resources and applications. These eCommerce applications and their relevant middleware integration benefits include the following processes

Pricing and inventory integrations

Data begin losing their business value almost instantly in today's environment of instant communications, and the older that information grows, the less useful it becomes. Data latency can affect almost every B2B process including external sales efforts, marketing plans, social media strategies and back-office management, but few areas are more important for getting real-time updates than pricing and inventory integrations.

Data warehouses must have the latest figures from across all sales channels to fulfill real-time orders, use supply and demand for setting special prices and respond to the new business imperative that no longer recognizes "standard business hours" when customers can place orders 24/7/365. Accommodating this “always-on” trend generates many problems for legacy systems that traditionally updated during nightly batch windows. That just doesn’t work when a company's best customers might easily work from different time zones or mobile devices at any time of day or night.

Faster disaster recovery

Robust middleware reduces downtime for synchronizing data between old and new systems or data backups, which can speed disaster recovery and system migrations and even enhance data availability during power outages, system maintenance processes and partial system failures.

Authentication protocols and security issues

Full integration automatically provides authentication mechanisms based on the company's needs, regulatory mandates, types of connections and whether the applications are subject to security rules like SSL encryption, HIPAA protocols and other security requirements.

Automatic monitoring

Integrations in the middleware layer can provide many automatic monitoring features, trigger alerts, troubleshoot connectivity problems and generate metrics that are easily accessible or that appear automatically on the custom dashboards of authorized users. Administrators can schedule nightly or regular reports and transmit them to secure locations for staff supervision and monitoring.

Custom workflows

B2B companies can automate custom workflows and business processes through connections in eCommerce platforms with vigorous middleware layers. Integrations can trigger automatic emails, product reorders, offers of buying incentives, special prices on bulk orders, service desk interventions, transmission of leads to sales staff and many other business applications.

Almost unlimited scalability

Architecture, processing speeds, database sizes and staff capabilities will always limit B2B growth, but companies without a powerful platform and responsive API layer face continual problems when expanding their businesses, adding new features, upgrading business capabilities and connecting to external resources. A powerful middleware layer allows companies to integrate their software and applications fully, which in turn facilitates integrations, expansions and upgrades for many years despite rapidly evolving business trends and technologies. It just doesn't make sense in today's rapidly changing business marketplace to choose a static option that could become obsolete before it's even fully implemented. Poor user experiences, according to 77 percent of respondents in a Society of Digital Agencies report, are problems for agency clients, which is the top design weakness identified.[3] About 39 percent of users will abandon websites if their features load too slowly or fail to update in real-time.

Architecture and formatting

A trusted partner can help B2B companies operate their "switchboards" by enhancing communications processes and connectivity among their applications, back-office software, CRM systems, catalogs, websites, customer portals, custom dashboards and external stakeholders. A platform with a robust middleware layer can speak many languages and manage connectivity to different protocols so that companies can integrate ERP and CRM systems, build customized features and even satisfy the complex requirements of HIPAA regulations for confidential and protected information.

Best practices for B2B companies include adopting a multitiered architecture and server infrastructure that's supported by robust middleware capabilities. Companies can collect, process and transmit information and perform the following processes:

  • Translating system-specific data into uniform formats and vice versa
  • Negotiating secure connections for protected data and company processes
  • Scaling up or down with clustering to increase website performance
  • Generating on-demand reports using any data that are connected through the middleware layer
  • Aggregating metrics to custom dashboards for staff analysis
  • Triggering automatic alerts when certain conditions are met such as server issues, losses of endpoint connections or data that are invalid or unable to be validated
  • Scanning database architecture to update partial changes without changing entire databases
  • Integrating with other ERP and business partner middleware technologies
  • Adopting open source applications and software
  • Authenticating and validating data
  • Gathering data that pass through the system for persistence and consolidation
  • Sequencing multistep operations
  • Scheduling updates to run at optimal times

How to choose a platform and development partner

Collaboration has become critical in today's B2B eCommerce environment. No single legacy system, software application or open source tool can work effectively out-of-the-box until it's been fully integrated with the platform through its middleware layer. Otherwise, you're stuck with manual duties, bottlenecks and incorporating changes in your business to accommodate the software instead of configuring and customizing software to fit your business needs. The right development and platform-building partner understands this paradigm change in business trends, so its team of engineers will work closely with your IT team, company stakeholders and external touch points to build a highly functional, automated and collaborative platform with key integrations. The Internet's vast communications structure creates a personal switchboard that developers can customize to integrate eCommerce applications while denying entry to unconfirmed data, suspicious communications or malignant, criminal efforts to gain access to internal systems.

References: