E-commerce is the greatest marketing campaign ever seen in the IT industry. However it begs the question: "What is happening at the e-coalface'?" Does the hype of early last year match up with what Australian companies are implementing now?
Ultimately it's the buyers of information technology who decide what succeeds and what fails, regardless of hype. The dot-coms have certainly learned that lesson. If the customers don't buy, the company won't exist.
So what is happening at the e-coalface? Australian companies have certainly begun the journey. IDC claims that local customers spent nearly $205 million on e-business in 1999. This will grow to $1.135 billion in 2004. With a glowing forecast like that, are there any issues?
Yep. The primary issue has been around since the dawn of computing. Arguably the biggest IT headache has always been the integration of data from multiple information systems strewn across a business enterprise. Leagues of programmers have spent countless hours working out how to extract data from multiple software systems, in a format that can be used by new applications.
Unfortunately e-commerce will only compound this issue. It will accelerate the requirement for data integration. Whether you are talking about implementing Web sites, online ordering or participating in industry-wide initiatives such as online catalogues or trading exchanges, a company's IT infrastructure will be called upon to generate increasing amounts of data for use by e-commerce applications.
Ultimately, the path to e-commerce begins at the IT infrastructure level. The first step that many local companies are taking is at the data representation level. Companies are looking at what information they want to present "outwardly" to current customers, business partners and Web audiences. Initiatives are underway that extract data from across the business enterprise for presentation to intranets, extranets and the WWW.
The second issue becomes the deployment of data. Ask any product manager. Releasing product information has become a nightmare. In the good old days, product information strolled out an organisation on faxes, paper catalogues and e-mails. In this brave new world product managers are called on to get products into market at light speed. They're also asked to react to competitive pressures at higher speeds and to present their products on an increasingly complex variety of systems, such as Web sites, trading exchanges, extranets, industry catalogues, buyers, pricing systems et al.
However, there are solutions in sight for the product manager. The highflying hype of e-commerce has given way to a set of infrastructure tools that assist a company in starting the e-commerce path. Be on the look out for new acronyms such as PDM (product data management) that provide organisations with the tools to easily organise and manage product information, as well as the mechanism by which this information can be made available to an increasingly information-hungry market place.
Those organisations that already have their infrastructure in order are implementing tailored e-commerce roadmaps to suit specific strategic objectives. The advent of Web-style programming allows this specific tailoring to satisfy the needs of the organisation.e-commerce is alive and well here. As long as the lessons of past technology introductions have been learned it will continue to thrive. A brave new world is achievable after the infrastructure is put into place. Ultimately, the e-comm pyramid is being built from the bottom up.
Colin Kempter is Marketing Director of e-comm developer Pacific Commerce. Contact him on email@example.com