The willingness of SMBs to invest in e-business projects is on the increase. This is the key result of the joint study “Internet und E-Business im Mittelstand” (Internet and e-business in SMBs) published in April 2004 by business magazine impulse and IBM. For Wilfried Beeck, founder and CEO of the SAP Solution Partner ePages, this development is not at all surprising, because “the rapid spread of DSL tariffs means that the Internet has become readily accessible and is part of everyday life in the business and consumer sector. eBay, Google, and, more recently, product portals such as Kelkoo help consumers to find their way around the market. So it is no surprise the pressure to invest on the customer side is greater than ever.” SMBs can also improve their business processes with e-business by reducing delivery times and lowering the cost of sales, procurement, warehousing, and organization. This leads to improved productivity, “which means improved competitiveness and thus a stronger market position,” Wilfried Beeck continues. He says that this applies mainly to SMBs such as retailers and mail-order companies, but also to producers of consumer and capital goods who now sell their products to end customers (B2C) or business customers (B2B) online.
Exploiting the full potential of e-business
“However, SMBs can only exploit the complete range of opportunities afforded by online commerce if they fully integrate their online activities into their MIS processes,” Beeck adds. The SAP Solution Partner ePages has therefore linked its Merchant Edition e-business solution, developed especially for SMBs, into SAP Business One. “This enables companies to easily exchange data on prices, product data, inventory levels, and customers between the two systems in real time and to manage them centrally in SAP’s SMB solution,” Beeck explains.
Online orders from the ePages solution are passed automatically to SAP Business One, where a new order is generated (again automatically), and this can then be further processed by a member of the sales staff. All business processes, from the receipt of the order to invoicing, and information on product, customer, and warehousing data are managed centrally in SAP Business One. The ePages Merchant product range provides a number of interesting opportunities for using other sales channels such as eBay, Kelkoo, and Pangora shopping portals in addition to the company’s own online shop. Any orders received via these sales channels can be managed easily via SAP’s SMB solution.
This integration can mean considerable potential savings particularly for traders who still use traditional sales channels, such as fax or telephone, alongside the online channel because all channels are managed via the SAP system. “The integration of the two systems offers demonstrable benefits, particularly for small and midsize trading companies, irrespective of whether they focus on B2C or B2B, enabling them to deploy their generally limited financial and personnel resources as efficiently as possible without being inconvenienced by time-consuming proprietary developments,” Beeck affirms.
Improving processes across the board
The “ePages E-Commerce Solution for SAP Business One” consists of two components: an add-on for SAP Business One, and a cartridge that is added to the ePages shop. If the add-on is installed, the “ePages” menu option is added to SAP Business One. Settings for item data and business partners can be made here, and an initial import of existing items, orders, and products can be performed from the ePages shop. Communication is via Web services. The cartridge that is installed for ePages also uses Web services to communicate with SAP Business One.
The way in which this integration results in leaner processes can be demonstrated by two examples. If a trader sets up a new product in SAP Business One, the data is transferred to the Merchant Shop and displayed in the catalog that has already been defined. “To do this manually would take a long time. Thanks to the integration, the process is run automatically in a few seconds,” Wilfried Beeck remarks. If a trader changes or updates the prices in SAP’s SMB solution, the changes are automatically communicated to the ePages shop software. This considerably reduces the work involved in managing product data as it only has to be set up or amended once. Both systems thus always use the latest data. The user decides whether just one or several products are updated.
The same happens when a customer selects a product in the online shop, puts it in the shopping cart and triggers the order – the sequence is simply reversed. The information is transferred to the SAP system, where it is displayed as an order and processed. The inventory level in the SAP system is simultaneously updated, and the relevant information transferred back to the e-business software and displayed. Customers are thus provided with reliable information about the availability and delivery time (e.g. in stock, deliverable within one week etc.) of the product they ordered. The user can choose whether the data is exchanged in real time, once at the beginning of each session, or cached globally. An example: while it only really makes sense to specify product availability in real time, it is normally enough to transfer price data once at the beginning of a session. Configuration data, on the other hand, do not need to be exchanged frequently. “The automated data exchange between the SAP solution and the ePages shop reduces the administrative input required for processing orders, and naturally lowers costs,” says Beeck.
He describes a further advantage of central data storage in the SAP system. If a new customer registers in the online shop and triggers an order, SAP Business One automatically sets them up as a customer or a business partner and stores their details in the business software. This enables the trader firstly to manage customer data optimally, and secondly to use the customer data stored for marketing campaigns such as mail shots (naturally taking any relevant data protection provisions into account).
Integrated overall solution for SMBs
According to ePages, the integration of Merchant Edition and SAP’s SMB solution fulfils important requirements that SMBs have of an integrated overall solution that can be implemented quickly and at a transparent and calculable cost. The introduction of the ePages software depends on the user-specific requirements of the customer, and Beeck explains that a standard installation takes between three and four days. In terms of system requirements, SMBs need either Microsoft Windows 2000 (with Service Pack 3) or Windows Server 2003, an Intel Pentium III processor or higher and at least 512 MB RAM. A further requirement is a configured and secure data link via TCP/IP with DNS entry, including Web server (such as Apache) and browser. There is no minimum user limit. The number of products, transactions, and customers that can be managed via the e-business solution is unlimited.
The Jena-based e-commerce specialist provides an entry-level solution consisting of an ePages 4.5 Merchant Edition and the “ePages E-Commerce Solution for SAP Business One 2004” starting at a “very attractive and SMB-friendly price” of €2,500. This version will be available from the end of March 2005 to enable at least regular customers to be catered for. In the middle of the second quarter of 2005, the integration will also be available for the latest ePages product – the ePages 5 Merchant Series. “This not only smoothes the way for SMBs to enter into the e-commerce field, the integration of SAP Business One and the ePages solution also provides them with a cost-effective, integrated, and sophisticated all-in-one solution that will boost their competitiveness in the long term,” Wilfried Beeck concludes.