Today’s ecommerce market demands are greater than ever. Third-party logistics (3PL) warehouse customers and end-consumers expect up-to-date information and an efficient, error-free shipping experience. This requires a seamless technology stack where disparate systems “talk” to each other and share key information like order and inventory data. For example, many third-party logistics warehouses may have a warehouse management system (WMS), transportation management system (TMS), and multiple shopping carts. These systems all need to seamlessly work together in order to help the integrated 3PL be more productive and efficient to meet their customers’ requirements. So, how does this work?
One of the most important features of any modern WMS platform is its Application Programming Interface, or API. An API defines interactions between multiple software systems. At 3PL Central, our API allows for orders, inventory, billing, and other data to move between the 3PL Warehouse Manager and other systems, such as shopping carts and finance systems. See our whitepaper on the Ecommerce Technology Lifecycle to learn more about what systems may interact in a 3PL warehouse environment.
To facilitate these systems “talking” to each other, someone must write software code that extracts the data via the source system’s API and inputs it via the destination system’s API. This is commonly referred to as an “integration”.
Ways to interact with APIs
Some software builds connections to another’s API into their software platform. These kinds of connections are called “pre-built” or “out-of-the-box” connections. For instance, 3PL Central has built to Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, ShipStation, Quickbooks, and a variety of other systems. Conversely, companies like TradeGecko, Skubana, Ordoro, and DesktopShipper have built 3PL Central’s APIs. This allows customers of either platform to seamlessly interact with the other without dealing with any third-party developers, and often for a fraction of the price of a middleware solution or custom development since multiple customers use the integrations. The only downside to this kind of connection is that there are rarely customization options, so if your workflow isn’t supported by the pre-built connection you may need to find another solution.
It’s very difficult for a software platform to build a connection to every other platform. It requires time and resources that may be better focused on building core capabilities into the platform. In many cases, a software platform may refer you to a company that operates an integration platform or “middleware”. This software is specifically designed to integrate other software systems. Examples include Celigo, CartRover, and Techdinamics. It can be more complicated when adding a third party to the mix, but in general, a middleware solution is great if there is not a pre-built connection between the two systems you are trying to connect.
When a prebuilt connection does not exist and there is not a middleware solution that connects the two systems in question, a custom-built connection is a way to go. This involves a third-party developer building a bespoke connection to facilitate the desired workflow. This is often the best way to ensure that the technology supports your business process, and not the other way around. While this can often be one of the more expensive options, it can offer a warehouse the greatest benefit and return on investment (ROI). A custom solution will be able to cater to the exact needs of a 3PL’s customer base by increasing efficiency and productivity. Ultimately there are several ways to connect your 3PL warehouse technology stack to save time and ensure accuracy. It is important to have answers to these questions before deciding how to integrate your key systems:
Which systems do I need to talk to each other?
What is most important in this integration: adhering to my business process or keeping costs low?
What specific data do I need to move from and to which specific systems?
What best practices are available to accommodate the needs of many customers?
With the right technology partner guiding you through these questions, integrations can provide a core foundation that can differentiate your warehouse against competitors.
To learn more about how your warehouse can leverage integrations for operational efficiency, join us for an upcoming webinar with Celigo. Or if you are ready to learn more about how 3PL Warehouse Manager WMS can integrate with your technology stack to provide a better customer experience, schedule a time to talk to an expert.
Written by Brandon Burns
Brandon is a business development professional with a focus on lasting partnerships that create value for customers. With more than a decade of experience in technology, consulting and finance, he is able to navigate complicated technical and commercial relationships to ensure the needs of all stakeholders are met.