Today, online payments are a must. But is it as easy and obvious to integrate payments into your system and infrastructure like each of the payment providers describe? I will share the things that stunned me, when I was working on payment integrations as a Solution Architect for the launch of a complex, worldwide, B2B eCommerce site for a Kainos customer.
First of all, explore the basics: cost options, functionality required, support provided or how a merchant is defined. That is relatively easy to go through and you could think you can now relax and see the money fly in; yes, for simple eCommerce, but that’s rather rare for the complex environment we were in.
A straightforward payment flow looks like this:
If you start your business from scratch, you could take any online eCommerce solution, register it and off you go, job done. The experience I have with large, existing organisations already selling their products and services in a ‘brick and mortar’ or ‘phone and fax’ way, is that they already have internal systems and want, or rather, need to extend their current sales operations by adding an online selling channel. What then?
In this case, you are looking at an integration project. You need to integrate with the payments provider on top of integrating with existing systems and processes. From my experience the most complex task was to fit into the existing environment, not only the IT environment but also taking into consideration the existing manual processes and the human factor.
I have broken down the issues into a list of four things you need to consider before proceeding:
- Understand what you’ve already got
How do you know what to sell? How do you know what’s in your inventory? How do you know what the price is? Is the price the same for all customers or do you have a complex discount programme? Do you have an existing system that already does that but not yet online? How do you expose that to your online system?
That’s where the difficulty comes in.
- Understand your inventory process well
Once you have your catalogue presented to the customer online with the relevant and up-to-date information, will the purchase handle itself? Do you want to sell what you’ve already got in your warehouse or order in real time from your suppliers? Even if you take a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product you will still need to integrate or even modify it to make it all possible.
Do you already have an ERP system to block the bought item, so it’s not bought again by a different customer or to make an order to your supplier? Do you need to change any internal processes to make it work?
Even more important than technology is to consider the human factor.
Your employees will need to learn the new processes, and you also need to manage the fear of change. Why does an IT guy mention the fear of change? Usually we are the first in line to hear any complaints if the user doesn’t know how to do something. Fortunately, our customer’s management understood the need to make the software easy to use and to involve employees early.
Consider deploying service designers to run the user research and experience study. It is a must have input for any IT project and it is the base to facilitating positive change.
- Understand the money flow
What do you need to integrate? How is your SAP Finance doing? Each company has an accounting system, invoices, taxes, profit and loss. The payment provider reported the money has been released to your account – has it arrived yet? Do you have all the data needed for audits?
Maybe you want to share your platform with other smaller suppliers from the same market. Or maybe you want to be more trustful to your new customers. You not only need a payment provider that supports direct credit card payments, but also a provider that supports escrow payments.
An escrow is where funds wait in a safe place until the customer is satisfied with the transaction and then the money is released. But if something goes wrong, you need a dispute process. Many payment providers with an escrow service also add additional handling of the dispute process on their platform. So, we have another two integration points that need to be included in existing processes.
Fraud detection is another payment provider feature as well as your own responsibility. It is not only to cover payments but also any other restrictions in selling goods to certain countries or even people.
- Choose a payment provider that suits your busines
Seriously? Just one? For sure you have an IT exit strategy for all your platforms, business continuity plans, etc. And you just want a single payment provider? Having more than one payment provider will reduce the risk of failure, lock-in and may help in negotiating a more efficient cost for the service.
Did you know that there is a limit on credit card payments? It may differ between countries and payment providers but it’s usually about £1500-£2500 (sometimes it may be increased up to £8000) but more is a problem. Do you need bigger amounts? You may need a payment provider that also can support standard bank money transfers. Yes, bigger amounts and standard bank transfers may go via the payment providers too. What is the benefit? You still use the other platform capabilities, escrow, dispute, and you don’t need to worry too much about the required regulations in all of the countries you take payments in.
Are you going worldwide or just to a specific list of countries? Did you know that each country has different regulations for online payments? The EU will have the same regulations, and the UK and US will not be so difficult either, but what about China or other countries? Make sure you have a payment provider that has coverage in the countries you’re interested in and importantly, understand what the transaction limits and any other constraints are.
It’s not that difficult
It’s likely that after you answer all of those questions, your payment process will look like this:
Ok, it is a bit difficult and the picture is still a simplified and high-level view, but I can assure you it will be even more complex than anybody initially thought.
How to deal with it?
A Discovery phase and a roadmap are your best friends. Before starting to dig holes, first discover where the field is. It is more important than you think. Many times, I have seen people say “we do agile” – but really it was an excuse for a lack of preparation. You do not want to do a big upfront design, but just enough to find out what the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is and how to get there.
It’s a good idea to start with a Discovery where the entire team works together to prepare a project for the agile teams to start sprinting. Check out Scrum Master, Steven Limmer’s blog about one of the workshops that typically would be done during the Discovery.
As an Architect, part of my work is to participate in the Discovery to understand the context early and then to find technical solutions to it. With experience from many projects, I know how to kick off a project well.
By the end it was a bespoke integration project which was much more complex than plugging the payment provider. The dispute process can be very manual initially for the MVP, or maybe that is your competitive advantage that you have good support and you want to emphasise that at the very start. Take your business priorities and combine them with analysis of the integration points and then prioritise the backlog of work. Naturally, the technicalities are important too – it is technical work and an engineering task. That’s what I did with the teams from Kainos – why not supplement your own team with more experienced engineers and create two teams or more.
And lastly, the most important part – people. What is best for the users of the system (both your employees and customers)? You may ask your colleagues, your manager, or your customers and each one will give a different, biased answer. The classic Henry Ford quote “I would have given them faster horses” applies here – involve system designers, user researchers and user experience specialists to discover what’s best for users and how they interact with it.
Existing processes will most likely need to change. Involve your employees at the early stage of the project as they often have brilliant ideas and they will feel part of the project and contributors to the change, reducing the fear of it.
Once you have a partner that will help you analyse, understand what’s needed, plan and deliver the integrations, it will be much simpler and it will help you to be much more efficient in selling and taking payments online in this new world we’re living in.