Selectica's selling system eases e-commerce

Selectica may not be a household word, but the company's online selling system is the front end for many of the better-known e-commerce initiatives. In particular, Cisco uses its software to manage sales across all Cisco's distribution partners. In this interview, company CEO Raj Jaswa explains the strategic value behind creating a unified point of interaction between customers and channel partners.

Q: What exactly does Selectica provide?Jaswa: Selectica helps enterprises set up automated configuration, pricing, and quoting systems. This is particularly relevant for companies that have complex products and services and want to sell them through a variety of channels.

Q: Why is this relevant in today's economy vs. when e-business was all the rage?Jaswa: The primary challenge for most companies right now is cost reduction rather than market growth. The whole mentality has changed significantly. So to the extent that companies cannot have a lot of iterative processes that really don't add value to the final transaction, the more they can optimize [those processes] and make [them] efficient, the better. At Cisco, we helped them completely rationalize their whole manufacturing, sales, marketing, and auditing organizations so that they all work off a common bill of material, and they all work off the same configurator. So you don't have to maintain data multiple times in many different areas. Selectica provides a unified, single point of interaction with the company.

Q: What benefits are derived from doing that?Jaswa: If you're providing a price quote for the product that you're going to transact or the order that you're going to place, which includes information about what is the right product for the customer, then you can think about what kind of up-selling and cross-selling you want to do. Then you can determine what is the right price, volume discount, contract, terms, and conditions. All of that has to come together in a unified way, which is common across all the channels, and that's what we do.

Q: Integration of systems is always a challenge for IT. What does the advent of Web services mean for integrating your applications with other back-end systems?Jaswa: Web services and XML are a kind of continuing evolution of how different applications integrate with each other. An application such as Selectica has to integrate into a whole number of internal applications, starting off with an ERP [enterprise resource planning] system in the back end, and contact management systems in the front end. What XML and Web services do is make it much easier for an application to interface without having to do it at the API level. We definitely support XML today and Web services are coming. With Web services, it's more a question of waiting for the standards to develop and then have the middleware vendors or the big ERP systems to offer those capabilities.

Q: So at the end of the day, we're talking about real-time interactions across all channels. How big a push is there to conduct business in real time?Jaswa: What Selectica is all about is doing complex business in real time. The more real time, the better, because that's where the competitive advantage comes from.

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