ERP integration guide: examples, benefits, and tools you can use

Your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is the finance hub of your business.

It’s where purchase orders get created, customer records get maintained, product inventory gets updated, and a whole lot more.

The value your ERP system provides, however, is limited when it works in isolation from the rest of your apps. 

When operating on its own, employees are forced to manually enter information from other apps. This leads to an aggressive amount of data entry and app hopping, delays in processing data, costly human errors, and a host of other issues that harm employee productivity and the experience of customers.

To avoid these issues and to get the most out of your ERP software, you’ll need to integrate it with the apps your employees in finance, sales, customer success—among other functions—use. 

We’ll explain why that is, and we’ll cover everything else you need to know about integrating your ERP system. This includes the benefits that come from integration, specific ways to connect your ERP software with other apps, and the top items to keep in mind when doing so. 

But to get us started, let’s align on what ERP integration means.

1. What is ERP integration?
2. Common examples
3. Top benefits
4. Key considerations during implementation
5. Integration tools

What is ERP integration?

It’s the process of connecting your ERP system with the other on-premise and cloud applications your business uses. This typically involves using their application programming interfaces (APIs). 

Once connected, your ERP system and the other apps can stay in sync, and you can implement workflow automations that work across them (we’ll cover examples of this next). 

Examples of ERP integration

Here are 5 common business processes that can benefit from ERP integration.

Sync orders between your ERP and CRM

Once an order gets added to your customer relationship management (CRM) platform, it’s imperative that it also gets added to your ERP solution as soon as possible. Otherwise, you risk delaying the rest of the early steps in the client engagement—whether that’s delivering your invoice, onboarding the client, etc.

To prevent any delays from occurring, you can integrate an ERP software like NetSuite with a CRM like Salesforce. From there, you can implement a workflow where any time a new client order gets created in the CRM, it creates a duplicate order in the ERP system in real time.

Note: For any of these examples, you can easily replace NetSuite with another ERP application, like SAP ERP.

A workflow where once a new sales order gets created in Salesforce, a corresponding order gets created in NetSuite

Notify management when they need to approve a purchase order

To help your team access the resources they need, quickly, you’ll need internal approvals for purchase orders to work seamlessly.

To address this business process, you can connect your ERP with your business communications platform (e.g. Slack) and then build a workflow that works as follows: any time a PO gets submitted for review, the appropriate approvers get notified via a channel in the business comms platform, where they’re asked to take a look at the document. Once they have, they can approve (or reject) it with the click of a button inside the business comms platform. 

A workflow between NetSuite and Slack that allows employees to review and approve purchase orders

Create an invoice in your ERP once it arrives in your spend management system

To expedite invoice processing and ensure that no payment is late—or worse, never made—, you can connect your ERP solution with a spend management tool, like Coupa, and implement a workflow where any time an invoice arrives in the spend management tool, a duplicate invoice gets created in the ERP.

A workflow between Coupa and NetSuite where any time an invoice arrives in the former, a duplicate copy gets added in the latter

Manage important documents in your ERP without leaving your file storage app

Keeping track of all the documents in your ERP and making changes to any over time can be a hassle. 

You can find any item more easily by integrating the platform with a storage app you’re comfortable using, like Box. Once integrated, you can instantly share the documents from the ERP with the storage app, as well as allow for changes made in one platform to sync over to the other automatically. 

A workflow between NetSuite and Box that allows you to sync documents between the two apps

Streamline refunds in NetSuite once a request arrives in your ITSM tool

Providing a best-in-class customer experience involves following through on client requests quickly.

Issuing refunds is no exception. To fast-track this process, you can sync your ERP with an ITSM, like ServiceNow, and automatically initiate the process in the former once the customer-facing employee creates the request in the latter.

A workflow between ServiceNow and NetSuite that allows you to streamline customer refunds

The benefits of ERP integration

Here are just a few of the benefits you can expect after implementing the use cases above, among many others.

1. It enables you to eliminate data silos

Data silos—when information only exists in certain apps—can lead to all kinds of adverse outcomes for you and your colleagues. 

  • Employees may be unaware that certain data exists, thereby preventing them from using it
  • Employees may experience delays in accessing the data they need, leading to outcomes that impact the bottom line (e.g. a slow lead response time)
  • Employees may eventually forgo requesting access to data once they experience the time delays and bottlenecks that come with any request

An integrated ERP system can effectively prevent and break down data silos. Why? Because once you connect the app with others, employees may be able to access the data they need from it within the apps they’re already using. This applies to a wide array of teams, whether it’s marketing, finance, supply chain, human resources, sales, etc.

2. It allows you to hold onto a legacy ERP system

In many cases, your legacy system is still valuable, it’s just using an outdated UI. You can hold onto the benefits it offers—while avoiding the clunky UI and the significant costs in replacing it—by integrating it with an application that offers a modern UI, such as one built in a tool like OutSystems.

3. It helps your team avoid costly human errors

Without integrating your ERP software with the rest of your apps and allowing the data to flow between them seamlessly, your team would be forced to perform extensive app hopping and data entry. These manual tasks leave your team prone to making costly mistakes, such as filling out a PO incorrectly, issuing the wrong client a refund, etc. 

4. It improves the employee experience

Empowering employees to focus less on tedious, manual work and more on thoughtful, business-critical projects instead, is proven to lift employee engagement.

Higher employee engagement, in turn, is likely to drive a host of benefits for your business, whether that’s higher employee productivity or lower turnover. 

5. It enhances the customer experience

By removing internal bottlenecks across client-related processes, your team is more likely to deliver first-class client experiences. 

In addition, by keeping all the client data across your apps consistent and updated in real-time, your teams can work together more effectively in supporting clients and in troubleshooting any issues as they arise. For example, an employee in customer success might be struggling to collect the first invoice payment from a client. They can notify a colleague in finance, who can easily verify this, and then extend the client’s payment deadline in the ERP system. 

6. It emboldens your team to perform more comprehensive analysis

Your ERP tool, in and of itself, offers limited analytics functionality. 

To fully understand the information it collects, your team needs to analyze its data alongside the data from other apps in more sophisticated BI and analytics tools.

More specifically, you can follow a data integration approach: your data warehouse adds the data from your ERP, allowing your business analysts to pull data from the former (along with the other data that exists there) and use it in their analytics/BI tools to unearth more nuanced insights.

7. It allows retailers to easily update and maintain their inventories

As online retailers use an ecommerce platform—whether it’s Magento, Shopify, Amazon, etc.—to sell their products, they’ll need their ERP system to work in lockstep with it. 

For example, they need the ERP system to update the inventory count of a product every time it’s sold. That way, the count is kept accurate and any products that sell out are displayed as such on the site.

Integrating your ERP system with your ecommerce platform neatly solves this, as once connected, you can instantly update inventory counts across your products whenever sales take place.

What to account for when ideating each integration

Bought into integrating your ERP system with other apps? Now you’ll need to think through how these integrations should work.

To guide you through this thinking, you should ask yourself the following questions:

4 questions that can help you implement effective ERP integrations
  • What business apps are involved? This involves identifying the apps that should collect and store data from your ERP as well as those that should deliver data to your ERP (there’s often overlap).
  • Is the process time sensitive? Each potential integration can offer up a different answer.

When integrating your ERP with your CRM, you likely want many of the data flows to operate in real time (e.g. creating a sales order in the ERP once it’s created in the CRM). Conversely, other integrations can use data flows that get executed in batches (e.g. creating new rows in Google Sheets for clients that get added to your ERP system) 

  • What are the business rules/logic? Many data flows should be flexible, where the actions that get taken depend on different circumstances.

For instance, when a client’s account gets updated in your CRM, you should add logic that updates the customer’s account in your ERP if their profile already exists in the latter; however, if the client’s profile doesn’t already exist in your ERP for whatever reason, you would create the customer in the app before updating their profile.

  • What exceptions may occur? No integration is immune to issues. You have API outages to contend with, system outages to consider, data that can go missing, and the list goes on. 

To effectively manage each of these potential issues, you’ll need to ideate error handling processes which can then be applied to the various integrations and data flows you set up.

ERP integration methods

Finally, once you know how you want your ERP system to interact with other apps, you’re ready to explore your integration options and find the one that can do the best job of carrying out your vision.

To that end, here are some approaches to consider:

1.  Point to point integration: the use of custom code to connect two applications 

Pros:

  • Your team has full control over the integration 
  • Can neatly address the integration needs of your business

Cons:

  • The process of building and maintaining the integration is often time consuming and takes your dev team away from performing other critical tasks
  • If any of the select-few employees who understand a point-to-point integration leaves your company, the integration becomes all the more difficult to maintain and fix over time
  • There isn’t a centralized place to monitor them, which makes it difficult to track and troubleshoot any over time
  • Doesn’t allow you to automate business processes end-to-end

2. Native integration: when the applications themselves can connect with one another via their APIs

Pros:

  • Integrations often come included with your subscription (or at a low additional cost)
  • Apps’ support teams are heavily incentivized to to help you build and maintain their integrations over time—which can lend itself to high quality support

Cons:

  • Your apps likely don’t offer all the integrations your business needs
  • The integrations may fall short of your business requirements
  • Doesn’t allow you to automate business processes end-to-end

3. Enterprise service bus (ESB) software: A software that allows you to use an ESB architecture—where apps can communicate and share data with one another via a middle layer (known as the communication bus).

Pros:

  • Leaves you less dependent on specific applications, as they don’t communicate directly with one another
  • Offers a centralized means for tracking and managing integrations
  • Can be well suited for connecting legacy, on-prem systems

Cons:

  • Often ill-suited in connecting cloud applications
  • Requires technical expertise to set up and manage
  • Doesn’t allow you to automate business processes end-to-end

4. Integration platform as a service (iPaaS): a 3rd-party, cloud-based platform that provides a centralized means of integrating your apps and on-premise systems

Pros:

  • A centralized view of your integrations makes it easier to maintain and fix any when necessary
  • Often complies with critical data protection and privacy requirements
  • Subscription-based pricing makes its costs easier to forecast over time

Cons:

  • Still requires a certain level of technical expertise to use
  • The process of building integrations can still take a long time
  • Doesn’t allow you to automate business processes end-to-end

This leads us to a 4th option: an integration-led automation platform.

Using this type of platform, you can address the unique integration challenges of each option above as well as their their common issue of being unable to implement end-to-end automations that work across your apps, data, and teams.

Here’s more on how this type of platform can work:

  • It offers a low-code/no-code UI so that employees across lines of business can implement integrations and automations (in a secure, governed environment, of course)
  • It provides out-of-the-box connectivity to thousands of SaaS applications, databases, legacy systems, etc. via pre-built connectors and it offers automation templates—both of which should help your team implement powerful integrations and automations, quickly
  • It uses chatbots to help employees work in their apps and run their automations without leaving their business communications platform
  • It can ship out updates at a rapid pace, which means you don’t have to revisit and update specific integrations over time

To learn more about this type of platform, you can connect with an automation expert at Workato—the leader in integration-led automation.