U.S. companies in the wholesale distribution, manufacturing and retail sectors are strongly optimistic about their prospects for growth, yet ill-prepared to handle it, according to a recent study.

Conducted by NetSuite and Oz Development, the benchmark study of more than 200 U.S. companies in those three sectors found that 88 percent of respondents expect higher growth in 2013 and another 10 percent expect growth levels to stay the same. Most see Ecommerce as the ticket.

According to the survey, Ecommerce is the main strategy these companies are addressing to handle that growth, with 47% focused on expanding successful Ecommerce systems and another 24% building out an early-stage Ecommerce infrastructure.

The bad news? The survey found that most of these companies have little to no integration between Ecommerce and their back-end systems. Ensuring accurate inventory and timely fulfillment as customer demand grows and customer expectations rise is only going to further tax fragmented IT systems, which can already be problematic, particularly with a home-grown Ecommerce system (in place at 54% of respondent companies). Additionally, when using Ecommerce marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, most respondents use either custom, home-grown integration with ERP (51%) or manual processes (44%).

Automating and streamlining back-office order management processes can go a long way toward maintaining inventory and delivering on time, thereby improving customer experience. Indeed, most respondents realize this. As the report notes:

At 37%, improving order management was far and away the #1 customer-focused initiative being pursued by respondent companies, reflecting the importance of order management in satisfying customers with fast and accurate delivery of goods. Expanding Ecommerce was second at 15%, dovetailing with the role that order management plays in Ecommerce by automating processes and supporting real-time information on order status, as well as purchase history, in a customer self-service portal.

Certainly some wholesale distributors, manufacturers and retailers are getting their back-office integration right. Forty-seven percent of respondents had fulfillment rates over 98% and another 36% had fulfillment rates between 95-98%, according to the survey. One contributing factor –among those with fulfillment rates better than 98%, 44% run NetSuite, while 27% are on QuickBooks, 15% on Microsoft Dynamics GP and 10% on Sage.

The full study reveals a wealth of valuable benchmarking data as well as some strategic recommendations for steps companies can take to improve their order management processes and customer experience.

The complete study is available for free download at Order Management Strategies for Efficiency and Growth.

-Lisa Schwarz, Director, Ecommerce Marketing