"Can you just....?"


We’ve all been there. The eye-rolling, teeth gritting response to the inevitable “Can you just…” questions that, to the person asking, seem quick and easy, while to the person being asked, open a whole world of pain.


“Can you just move that light a few inches higher?”

“Can you just change that graphic ever so slightly?”

“Can you just link our system up with that website?”

“Can you just get it so we can design our own document templates?”

“Can you just link us up to a webshop?”


When it comes to software, “can you just” often involves months of hard work and serious amounts of money, not to mention the time to train people in using the new feature or ironing out all the bugs in the functionality. To the client, it’s expensive and frustrating, because it seemed like such a straightforward request. But software is a complex beast, and there’s a lot going on in the background that makes even small changes quite complicated – especially when you’re using older systems.



Fortunately, modern system architecture means that “can you just” is often a lot more feasible than it used to be. It may not make absolutely everything easy, but it’s a far cry from the systems of old (and by old, we mean just a few short years ago.)


Now, we’re not here to bore you with all the technical details of system architecture (though we have included some helpful links at the bottom of this blog if you’re interested in learning more) What we want to talk about is the wealth of opportunities that modern systems offer for businesses like yours.


Integration is the modern way


Modern system architecture usually supports a higher degree of interoperability – i.e. it’s easier to integrate a core system with external extras to get the end result and specific functionality you need. Rather than a system having to provide every possible business function, it enables you to have a core system that does what it does best excellently, and enables you to seamlessly link with best-in-class solutions for other specialist areas, like accounting, for example.


When you’re using industry-specific software like the Merchanter ERP system, you’re dealing with some fairly complex architecture and functionality, which is necessary for the level of customisation and product granularity that merchants need. It is therefore not always as straightforward as you might think to integrate third party apps, plug-ins or platforms, and can sometimes take a while to find the right solution. But the principles of modern system architecture mean that it often is possible to get there, and the advantages of switching to a modern cloud-based system with that level of flex vastly outweigh the disadvantages.


In the same way that online shopping is considered to provide shoppers with an “endless aisle” of options, so modern software systems architecture can offer users the ultimate flexibility and choice – the ability to pick and choose the best solutions for their particular needs, rather than trying to shoe-horn everything into one (often clunky) package. Opting for a “lite” approach instead, modern cloud systems enable users to select best in class plug-ins and apps from sector specialists to best meet their unique needs.


What is “system architecture”?


In a nutshell, software system architecture is the network of processes that makes it all work. Exactly it sounds, the architecture is the way it’s built and laid out, and can also incorporate the strategy applied to selecting systems and software solutions within a business. And it’s fair to say that modern system architecture has come a long way since the dawn of the internet. See the links at the bottom for more info on the technical side.


So what’s the result and why is this relevant?


You know the expression “there’s an app for that?” Well, that concept sums up modern system architecture quite neatly. Driven by consumer expectation as much as technological capability, modern system architecture also tends to be pretty easy to use, designed to be intuitive use. You’ve probably noticed how even very young children can pick up a tablet computer and start using it with almost no instruction, adding apps and playing games with ease, despite the incredibly complex technology that allows it to work. That’s the end result of modern system architecture, and it’s an important part of your customer – and workforce – experience.


You have your core system – in our case, Merchanter, our digital ERP system for merchants. The system is designed to perform an extensive range of core functions, but, crucially, it is designed to integrate easily with other systems as well, so you have the ultimate flexibility to add the things you need, and choose exactly the right solution for your individual business.


Traditionally, you would either have an ERP system which would perform all your business functions in one vast, highly complex package, or you would use several different solutions for each different business function.


In the case of the former, that involves enormous amounts of implementation and design time up front to customise every element to your specific situation, and you are totally at the mercy of your ERP provider for every business function to work. In the case of the latter, each system may be very good but they don’t talk to each other, so you end up with issues around duplication of effort, missed information linkage and commonly, human error.


In modern systems architecture the communication framework between different systems is vastly superior, meaning you can have rapidly transferred, instantly integrated information across the entire business which is always up to date and accurate.


Advantages


- Agile and flexible

- Reliable, accessible and easily available

- Advanced interoperability (i.e. easy to integrate with external solutions)

- Greater capability to deal with vast amounts of data

- Always evolving

- More options to expand, i.e. more scalable

- Easier to use and intuitively designed

- Constantly updated so you’re always on the latest system

- Allows specialist and best-in-class plug-ins and options fast, easily and inexpensively

- Only pay for what you actually need

- Training as you go, not all up front

- Easy to switch to different options if you’re not getting on with a particular element

- Safe and secure

- You don’t have to move away from existing systems (e.g. Sage or Xero) when you switch ERP systems]


Disadvantages


In the interests of fairness, we should probably mention the disadvantages too – but really, there aren’t many!

- If you have an issue with a third party plug-in or app, your primary software provider may not be able to solve the issue for you so it could involve more work to track down a solution


- Occasionally some third-party apps or integrations simply aren’t compatible with the system you have, so if you have your heart set on using one and it doesn’t work, you might have to compromise on an alternative – or wait a while for your provider to design an integration method (which could incur additional costs)


- The best integrations rely on good quality, consistent data, and that can be an issue in merchanting as there are few standard systems for product information and terminology. This is improving with initiatives like ETIM however, so the outlook is promising.


Cloud-based business systems are, quite simply, the future. The ability to add a webshop or diversify your customer offering in other ways is almost secondary to the other advantages it offers in terms of process auditing and streamlining, and the efficiencies of AI and machine learning. It may all seem complex and if we’re honest, you don’t necessarily need to know all the background – but digital systems that offer greater flexibility, usability, accessibility, interoperability, efficiency and ultimately, profitability, are clearly an advantage for any business looking to meet customer expectations and achieve strong commercial success.


So while “can you just…” may still involve a fair bit of time and effort, modern system architecture enables far more possibilities, and brings new options into reach, rather than remaining way beyond the horizon.


If you’d like to see Merchanter in action for yourself, free of charge and with no annoying sales people looming over your virtual shoulder, just register here for login details and we’ll set you up for an online test drive.


Want to know more? Check out these articles:


https://hackernoon.com/the-eleven-defining-characteristics-of-modern-software-architecture-o8113ehc


https://www.infoworld.com/article/3257105/7-essential-technologies-for-a-modern-data-architecture.html


https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/tech-trends/2020/systems-architecture-design-awakens.html


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_architecture