In part 1 we showed how most retailers don’t have the luxury of assigning their most knowledgeable IT staff to data integration projects. This lack of resources becomes most evident during the testing phase, especially when dealing with two freestanding application systems that have no knowledge of each other. For example, System A is the Ecommerce Platform running your web commerce and System B is your ERP system. Each system is its own world with its own unique tables for products, employees, customers, prices, locations, and transactions. Yet, in the multi-channel world of today, your job is to make System A and System B seem as if they are one seamless entity.
The retail industry is facing enormous integration challenges similar to those faced by NASA in the early days of space flight, by banking when their world went on line, and by the media when everything went digital. In each of these cases, you’d bet they would construct two testing environments, one for their traditional world and the other for new.
Given that thorough testing can help retailers avoid project delays and even failure, it is surprising that retailers all-too-often take shortcuts on their integration testing. Data integration must accommodate a wide range of commercial conditions including every possible add, change, delete, and restructure for every table. Without an exhaustive list of conditions to simulate in your test environment, chaos and disruption will creep into your day to day business cycle of unexpected conditions. An item will be discontinued on the retail side, but reordered on e-commerce. A customer will be classified as fraudulent on the e-commerce side, but promoted on retail. An item marked for clearance on retail, will be offered in a coupon on your web store.
The only way to head this off is by testing every possible condition in every sequence imaginable. Often you must anticipate the changes in infrastructure and equipment, software versions, and network changes, such challenges can often overwhelm an already-stretched IT team.
In today’s world, it is not difficult to set up test environments with virtual servers. These enable you to test using real data, with real world scenarios. At RIBA, we rely heavily on the Retailer’s user community with all of its nuanced knowledge of its systems and business processes to provide major assistance in this testing/validation process. Over the years, we’ve done hundreds of projects to master retail data integration. Time after time, our success is based on a well thought out test environment/plan that tests every condition in as close to a real environment as can be reasonably simulated.