Integrating eCommerce with IBM i
It can be easy to understate the transformative effect that the Internet has made to the world, there have been few areas of our lives that have not been changed fundamentally by our ability to connect with billions of people. And with those connections, come opportunities for business, because billions of people means billions of potential customers.
Electronic or ‘e’ commerce has enabled businesses to make the computer, and latterly the phone in your pocket their shop window giving them a storefront on every street in every town of the world.
When did it all start though?
You might be surprised to hear that eCommerce pre-dates the web, with the first tentative steps being made in 1972 between two US universities. But Europe, and especially the UK broke early ground with the first B2B (Thompson Holidays UK in 1981) and B2C (Tesco Gateshead in 1984) systems, a full six years before Tim Berners Lee created the World Wide Web. Once the web had become established in people’s consciousness though things took off with Amazon launching as an online bookseller in 1994 and eBay in 1995, things were never going to be the same.
How can I compete with giants like Amazon or eBay though?
Remember that Amazon launched as a bookseller, eBay as an auction site. The rise of these corporations into the giants that they are today has in no small part been due to the way they have become marketplaces where other companies can list and sell their products. This marketplace model is also behind China’s Alibaba/Ali-express and numerous other region-specific platforms.
What If we’d prefer to run our own site, is that possible?
Originally, this would have meant the development of a bespoke eCommerce site, however, it is now more likely that a platform would be used, for example, Magento, WooCommerce, or Shopify. Part of the reason for this is cost, bespoke every time is expensive! But a major factor is maintenance and security, using a platform gives access to security patches, fixes and improvements in performance. And each platform has access to a host of plug-ins to enable additional functionality without expensive development.
Magento and WooCommerce sites are typically built and hosted by (or on behalf of) the company running the store offering a high level of customisation and the ability to develop and build functionality beyond the basic eCommerce functionality. This might include B2B or B2C storefronts, customer-specific pricing and loyalty card schemes.
Shopify which launched in 2006 offers a complete SAAS offering where for a monthly charge, hosting, payment processing, order management, reporting, and more are provided in a simple-to-use portal. There are numerous benefits not least a low price of entry, convenience, performance, and the ability to use the greater Shopify eco-system, however, it is important to note that the ability to customise and develop additional functionality is limited.
Can we connect our IBM i-based system to those marketplaces? What about our own site if we go that path?
Absolutely, the IBM i, also known as the AS/400 or iSeries is ideally suited to integration. Able to provide incredibly reliable uptime, whilst also boasting a design optimised for transaction processing, the IBM i makes an excellent cornerstone for an eCommerce stack.
Customers expect speed, convenience, and consistency and it is no surprise that the eCommerce sites that succeed are those which deliver time and time again.
Having a system that does not stop working is key to this.
How is this done though, where would we start?
Web services (aka. Application Programming Interface API.) enable systems to communicate in a reliable and efficient way. Marketplaces and platforms will make the information available so that developers can build integrations to other systems.
These are most likely SOAP, REST and GRAPHQL which given the ubiquity of those technologies gives a huge scope for integration.
The IBM i supports these technologies natively whether it be through its own APIs, using web services, or perhaps through database integration using JDBC or ODBC.
What would the typical process be?
Always start with a plan!
Define the scope of the integration project, including the specific data and functionalities that need to be integrated between your eCommerce platform and IBM i.
Depending on your eCommerce platform and IBM i system, you may need to develop custom integration code to connect the two systems. This could involve developing APIs, web services, or database triggers to send and receive data between the systems. You may need to work with a skilled developer or team with expertise in both eCommerce platforms and IBM i.
Test, Test, Test
There is an expectation that an eCommerce site works and works every time. Once the integration code is developed, thoroughly test the integration to ensure that data is flowing correctly between the eCommerce platform and IBM i.
Implement monitoring and maintenance
Set up monitoring and maintenance processes to ensure that the integration continues to work correctly over time. Monitor for errors, performance issues, and security vulnerabilities, and apply necessary updates or fixes as needed.
Ensure that the integration is secure by implementing appropriate authentication, authorisation, and encryption mechanisms to protect sensitive data exchanged between the eCommerce platform and IBM i.
Document the integration process, including the integration code, configurations, and any customisations made to the eCommerce platform or IBM i system. This documentation will be valuable for troubleshooting, maintenance, and future enhancements.
Strength in partnership
Integrating eCommerce with IBM i requires technical expertise and understanding of both the eCommerce platform and IBM i system.
It’s recommended to work with experienced developers or consult with experts in eCommerce and IBM i integration to ensure a successful integration.
At KFA we have extensive knowledge of integrating eCommerce with IBM i. For more information on how we can help your business, get in touch with our team today.
Joe VavasourKFA Connect – IT Manager
17th April 2023
Want to know more? Get in touch with our team today.