The ability to make data-driven decisions is critical to your business success. The various software systems (Print MIS, web-to-print) are your primary tools for managing this data. When you do integrations make sure you keep the control of right data in the right hands.
A data-driven print business makes better decisions.
- The primary objective of your Print MIS is for you to be able to make better data-driven decisions.
- The primary objective of your print ecommerce (web-to-print) solution is to encourage your customers to make better (more) buying decisions.
One of the challenges of managing your data is understanding what jobs your data needs to do and how it should be organized to do those jobs. A lot of the data organization in a Print MIS is doing the job of financial reporting and tracking because either your Print MIS is your accounting package or it feeds directly into your accounting package. The accountants in your company are constantly making data organization requests for the Print MIS so they can better present business results that help make better data-driven business decisions.
Much of the data on your print ecommerce/web-to-print system is for the benefit of your customers. You have a couple product images so the customer can be sure when they are selecting products that they are buying what they expect. You might have a lot of marketing information about the products to encourage shoppers to buy the product. Your product catalog may be organized in a way that allows your customers to easily find what they are looking for. A great example of this is the online shoe ecommerce site Zappos. When you’re shopping for shoes, you want to look for just shoes in your size, by the styles you wear, and in the color you want. The ecommerce solution should allow you to filter the overall repository of shoes down to just what you’re interested in so you can find and buy them efficiently.
So you have data that does different jobs. What happens when those two primary systems in your print business are integrated (they pass data between them)? Integrated systems work well when you understand the data model of both systems and then you specifically evaluate which data is going to be shared, which system is going to be the custodian (owner) of the data, and which system is going to subscribe to that data.
In integrations between web-to-print and Print MIS systems, I default to having all the data associated with the financials which is relevant to both systems (e.g. unique product IDs) to have the Print MIS as the custodian. For data that is for the benefit of the online shopper, the ecommerce system is the custodian and normally the Print MIS doesn’t even care or need to know about the data presented to the shopper to help them make the right shopping decisions.
The ultimate goal of an integration is to keep the control and flexibility in the hands of the people who care the most about the different data sets. Ideally you don’t want to ever force finance and marketing to make compromises in their data because of the way you structured the integration. For the most part, marketing moves faster, more often, and is required to be responsive to the market. The website data that is specific to servicing the customer should be in their controls and easy to change. Finance changes less often, can be more thoughtful, and has to think through how major data organization changes would impact comparison reporting. Generally finance makes lots of big decisions when they transition Print MIS systems and then a lot of little decisions in tweaking how they see data along the way.
The two systems (Print MIS and web-to-print) have to “talk” to each other because orders placed on web-to-print need to flow into the Print MIS system for fulfillment and billing. It is really important that business people are involved in the decisions because integration is not a technical project; it’s a business process project with technical components to it. The business people should be making these decisions; the technical people should be executing them. Too often we see just the opposite: there is no business involvement so technical people are forced to make decisions where they lack full context.
A former colleague of mine used to say that integrations are about an exchange of data, between two systems, in a certain format, under certain conditions, or at certain time intervals. This is the overall project of scope of all integrations; the devil is in the details because you have to decide what data, which system owns it, when does it get exchanged, and what happens when one system goes down. For example, we always want to keep taking orders on the ecommerce/web-to-print site and then “catch up” with the Print MIS when it comes back up. We want to make sure the data that is owned by the Print MIS is accurately being pushed up into the web-to-print and is not editable there (e.g. Product IDs). There is a lot to think through to get integrations right. Your business data is important to different functional areas in your business; the access to trusted data is one of the most important success factors for your most expensive ongoing investment—your people.