Electronic commerce, or e-commerce, typically means transacting business—marketing, buying and selling of products and/or services—via secured computer platforms, at any hour of the day through the public Internet, an intra-company network or other private network. An e-commerce Web site will have some form of product selection, often a shopping-cart system, as well as an electronic payment system. When e-commerce occurs between two companies, it’s called business-to-business or B2B. Between a company and consumers, e-commerce is called B2C.
“We define e-commerce as more than your Web store,” says Ali Jani, co-founder and chief technology officer of Dulles, Va.-based Everest Software (www.everestsoftwareinc.com), a provider of small-business e-commerce management solutions. “E-commerce is a point of self-service, meaning you want to make sure your catalog is available—as well as warranty management, customer (relationship) management, generic information, FAQs (frequently asked questions) and whatever else [a customer] needs to do on a Web site.”
Gain is not without pain, though, as an old saying suggests. And with e-commerce, Jani sees three pain points needing the salve of good remedies.
The first pain point comes with integrating in-place e-commerce software solutions that an enterprise may have. Enterprises have separate systems that don’t necessarily talk to each other, Jani observes. “And there is usually a person who is double-entering information, from system A to system B.” An example would be entering data on something produced and then putting that data back into the system elsewhere, he says. But that error-prone, time-consuming process causes lots of customer dissatisfaction, he observes, because customers may get conflicting messages.
The remedy for these non-real-time multiple systems? First, master synchronization problems, Jani suggests. “The problem with near-real time—or even what someone defines as real time—is that if the data from multiple systems have to go through a synchronization process, there may be delays.” Too, get a single database where all data reside, he advises, adding that multiple systems should be compatible. All these things point to an integrated e-commerce system on the provider’s side of the Web interface.
Pain-point number two comes from simply having different customers, Jani believes. Things that arise include specific pricing for various specific customers, who use different passwords to the B2C or B2B Web site, versus general consumers who may activate anonymous transactions. “If you have a retail showroom, you need a point of sale,” he says.
Inefficiency that arises through the service side of e-commerce is the third pain point, Jani notes. Resolving this comes through providing more power continuously to the customers, he believes. “They’re actually demanding that (additional power) more and more. For example, they may want to check the status of their order at 10 p.m.—at their time, not yours.”
Regardless of the responses to the pain points, overall software solutions fall into two categories, he notes: on-demand, which is also called hosted, and on-premise. “Lots of smaller firms start with on-demand, because it’s very low-cost entry. They pay monthly,” he says. With on-premise, a solutions provider comes to the manufacturing site and then installs and configures the technology on a customer’s servers and information-technology system.
The wisdom of the final choice, though, will manifest itself through return on investment (ROI), he believes. He says his experiences show that an on-premise model gives enterprises much higher ROI than the on-demand model.
Whatever the overall choice, however, staying competitive means addressing and then managing the pain points. “They’ve been there for a long, long time,” Jani observes.
C. Kenna Amos, email@example.com, is an Automation World Contributing Editor.