What is middleware exactly? It’s really just an application, a database, with its own interface which a lot of people can use and work within. Middleware is exactly what it sounds like. It sits in the middle of your systems and talks to your other software systems, creating a unified and integrated solution across your business. Simply put, with many benefits of middleware, its purpose is to drive business processes in a computerised and automated way, helping businesses to operate in a consistent and predictable manner.
What are the benefits that make middleware a good solution?
The ability to build a solution to a company’s exact requirements and speed up its business processes is what makes middleware so unique. A fundamental aspect of this is the ability to tightly integrate many business systems together. One of the ways it does this is by re-automating and, in doing so, ensures zero duplication of data entry between systems.
For example, a middleware solution designed to quickly create quotations may automatically update a CRM system and ultimately create new accounts and contracts within an ERP system upon the customer placing an order.
Cost effectiveness is another one of many strong benefits of middleware as it’s relatively fast to build. It usually has no ongoing subscription software licence fees so running costs also tend to be low.
The ability to remain 100% in tune with an ever-changing business is another benefit of middleware solutions because they are easily evolved. It is not unusual to hear that these types of solutions cost less than off the shelf packages, yet they deliver far greater value and function to the companies embracing this technology.
Middleware can be built to suit most business requirements, which enables it to cover a very wide application use. This is particularly the case where the need exists to digitally transform processes. The best way to describe this is to take an example of what we built for one of our customers:
Restore Datashred came to us with a business challenge to join up many processes associated with sales, quotations, order processing and contract on-boarding. They needed to find a way to support continued business growth; doing things faster with high levels of accuracy, whilst keeping the customer at the centre of their business.
It soon became clear that a middleware solution was the answer, creating a slicker way of working, taking away the pinch points and improving accuracy. It would eliminate the need for duplicate data entry and create automated processes that save time which would have previously been used passing documents back and forth between customers and departments. A middleware solution would also deliver a huge cost saving around the use of electronic signatures.
Avrion created the middleware application, subsequently named CPS (Contract Processing System), that the users log into as a single interface. In the background, a data warehouse is used to collate data and information from numerous back-office systems, CRM, ERP and Sage accounts.
How the middleware solution solved the challenge
As a web-based solution, CPS works wherever users have an internet connection. To add a quote is now very simple; type a company name, the system checks and retrieves any record in the CRM or ERP system and links it to the quote. No duplication whatsoever. Within CPS, users can quickly construct the quote using products and services managed in the ERP system, run a credit check, define payment terms, and in specific cases get authorisation from management in the process.
Once the user is happy with the quote and has verified the financials, they simply submit it by clicking on a button in CPS. The customer then receives an automatic email with a hyperlink to a customer portal. While in the portal the customer can access the quotation and, if they are happy with the quote, digitally sign it.
More information is gathered from the customer at this part of the process- regarding service levels, payment terms and so on – key for finalising the deal later. This part itself saves a lot of time and greatly reduces errors that may have happened later in the order process.
The CPS portal then takes the customer to a payment gateway to either collect payment or set up a direct debit. All the transactions and quotes are fed back into CRM for full visibility of customer activity within the Restore Group. No salesperson needs to update their CRM pipeline as CPS does this automatically. Once the customer has completed these steps, the next stage is for the onboarding team to turn the signed quotation into a live contract and start the service.
Streamlining onboarding and keeping all parties updated
At Restore Datashred, the onboarding and sales teams are in different buildings, and, at present, many of the team are working from home. With their middleware solution, it doesn’t matter where people are located, as CPS and CRM keeps them all on the same page.
At the signing phase, the team just needs to check the details of the pre-gathered customer information, and CPS automatically creates new records in the ERP and finance systems. The customer receives automatic emails to keep them updated on where they are in the process. Then, once the contract is onboarded, a welcome email is sent.
The sales teams, finance teams and customers are kept up to date with the whole process via CPS, and things are done much more quickly, accurately and efficiently because of the joined-up approach with all systems working as one. There are no emails whizzing around between departments, it’s all done in the middleware solution, which manages every step. There’s no need to recheck information with the customer, so this creates a better buying experience, helping Restore to build stronger customer relationships.
Direct cost savings include the elimination of expensive email PDF signature platforms, and the users in different departments do not all need to have CRM licences – they only need to log into the middleware. These savings alone justified the investment in this project. But the real value is how Restore Datashred can now operate in a digital, fast, and efficient way.
Wondering if you should take advantage of the benefits of middleware?
A middleware solution is right for you if:
- Your current processes are fragmented, inefficient, time consuming and susceptible to human error.
- Your business is losing revenue opportunities.
- You want to integrate your customer with your company, keeping customer experience at the centre of your business.
- Your strategy is to reduce operating overheads per sale, increase revenues and grow without increasing operating costs.
- The software subscription costs of typical off the shelf/vendor packages are high. This is more relevant if you have lots of staff requiring access to the software.