27th August 2021
How SilverDisc Performs Seamless Website and Back Office Migrations
Imagine the following scenario: your company relies on back-office systems: financial, production, CRM, warehouse inventory, supplier chain integration, HR and so on. Yours is a global 24x7 online e-commerce operation in a highly competitive market. You need to go live with your new website, which overcomes many SEO, user experience, responsiveness, conversion rate and speed issues - all the online marketing challenges that modern websites must consider in today’s world where online search plays a huge role in the success of your business and your brand. You need to do this in a seamless way, not to disrupt the continuity of your business, less so disrupting or losing valuable data: sales orders, invoices, client records, purchase orders and so on.
Addressing the Challenge
At SilverDisc we have often had to address this challenge for several retail clients. Just to mention a few: a dropship garden equipment retailer, a wholesale garden equipment operation, and a shoe factory with global sales.
Your transactional website domain needs to continue receiving and producing data as you switch from the old to the new system. You have invested thousands of pounds in getting your old website to connect to your back-office systems, sometimes using existing plugins or extensions, or sometimes developing your own. Additionally, you might have had to invest even more when your back-office systems required an upgrade and your existing plugins no longer worked with the newer technology.
Then comes your all singing and dancing new website - you will face similar challenges and your total cost of ownership (TCO) is likely to go through the roof once again. Even more, it is very hard to predict how much you will have to invest over time in keeping your online business ticking. How do we protect ourselves against this highly dynamic, unpredictable and often chaotic scenario?
SilverDisc’s approach has always been to develop what’s called a Thin Interface.
What is a Thin Interface?
Thin interfaces detach the website from back-office systems. At the same time, they detach the back-office systems from the technology used by the website’s business logic and data layers. This means that you can replace the back-office system without having to intervene with the website, and/or you can replace the website without affecting the back-office systems.
A good analogy to the thin interfaces is electric plug adapters: when you take your electric devices to another country you often also need to bring a plug adapter. Conversely, when you bring an electric device back home, you often need a plug adapter to use it. If it wasn’t for plug adapters you would have to call on an electrician to replace the plug in your device and sometimes even modify its voltage specification - and do this time and again for every country you decide to visit that has a different energy specification. Very expensive, time-consuming, impractical and intrusive, and if you couldn’t find an electrician you would be stuck!
The thin interface consists of a proprietary database that stores the data produced by the website that needs to be sent to the back-office systems. The thin interface also contains proprietary APIs used by the website code to write data to this database, and another API used to send the data to each of the back-office systems.
Virtues of Thin Interfaces
Let’s analyse the virtues of this methodology.
- The central database holds only the data that is necessary to send to the back-office systems
- We can back it up as and when required
- We can interface it with many more systems and online marketing channels via feeds
- We can visualise data to check consistency and carry out business intelligence via data analysis software
The main benefit, however, is that it serves as a buffer and isolation layer between the website and back-office systems.
Example: Sending Orders From the Website to Back-Office Systems
The initial website had been built many years ago using classic ASP and a Microsoft SQL Server database. The thin interface was a table in the database containing orders, from where they are sent to a very old accounting package.
Stage 1: Replace the website
We built a new website, keeping the old back-office systems. The new website sends the orders to the same interface table, from which they are sent to the old back-office systems. We did this without having to intervene with the old back-office accounting package.
Stage 2: Replace the accounting back-office system
We wrote a component to pull orders from the interface database and use the new back-office system’s API to create sales orders and supplier purchase orders. Thanks to the thin interface, we were able to do this without touching the website.
Stage 3: Add CRM system
We wrote a component to obtain customer data and products they have purchased, from the orders in the thin interface database. We then used the CRM package API to create or update customer records. Thanks to the thin interface, we were able to do this without touching the website.
Get Help Interfacing your Website and Back-Office Systems
At SilverDisc we understand the challenges posed by poor front and back-office systems interfacing. Many years in the market and our strong technological background place us in a privileged position to help our clients address these challenges. If you would like help in analysing and improving your current systems architecture, get in touch today.