Interoperability across E-Markets

The death of business-to-business e-commerce has been greatly exaggerated, says Sandy Kemper, who in July was elected chairman of the Global Trading Web Association, the board council for the Global Trading Web (GTW).

Corporate members of the association, such as Cable & Wireless, Citigroup, Commerce One, Deutsche Telekom, Mitsubishi Electric and PricewaterhouseCoopers, have seen their respective e-commerce activities grow 400 percent to 500 percent annually, Kemper says.

But to keep the e-ball rolling, participants must now work together to establish interoperability across markets, not just within their own markets, says Kemper, who is also CEO of eScout LLC, a Lees Summit, Mo.-based B2B exchange. Kemper recently discussed these issues with Computerworld's Gary H. Anthes.

What are the immediate goals for the GTWThe first is to manifest success in the [individual member] marketplaces. How do we measure that? Transaction volumes, revenues and cost savings. The second goal is to make more robust the interoperations that are across the various marketplaces.

How are these marketplaces doing now in terms of transactions, revenue and cost savingsVery few [electronic] marketplaces around the world have lived up to their own projections, in part because everyone was too optimistic about how quickly cultural change would take place in the way people were procuring. But clearly, change is taking place. Transactions are up, revenues are up. [GTW] has never announced revenue and transactions as an entity. But you'll soon see an announcement that will be fairly stunning.

What advice would you offer a company that's about to embark on a business-to-business e-commerce initiativeThe implementation of e-commerce in any company must be driven by top management. We are talking about significant bottom-line savings, but sometimes those savings come at a cost to the existing structure and to the people in that structure. There's cultural resistance and fear. You can take a lot of menial, manual work out of the purchasing department. But to think that this is something that's going to be quickly adopted in the purchasing department is probably false without strong support from the top.

How can you achieve the interoperability across marketplaces that you are seekingThe technological problems have gone a long way to being solved. What's important now is the business rules. The creation of trust is perhaps the most important mandate we have today inside the GTW, a trust that will enable us to build business relationships that will cause intermarketplace trade.

Does that include security

Security is part of trust. We have to maintain security and privacy, and there has to be economic standards for intermarketplace trade. If I sell this in your marketplace, how will you treat my buyer? And if a buyer from your marketplace is transacting with a supplier in mine, how will I treat that buyer? How will you treat my supplier? And it can't be a closed environment. It's de facto evidence of lack of trust if you don't open up to everyone. Rules for interoperability have more to do now, I believe, with the basics of business and less with the basics of technology.

Still, we hear about battles between electronic data interchange (EDI) and XML. EDI and XML aren't incompatible. You can take EDI and wrap it in an XML wrapper and move it into an XML-based system and be just fine. We want to make possible transactions in EDI, XML, even paper-based transactions flat-file transactions. We have to make sure we are not putting up any barriers to entry.

Why is the GTW now becoming independent from its creator, Commerce One[Commerce One] created the GTW operating on [its] platform. Now the GTW has reached enough critical mass to stand on its own, and the GTW recognized it must be open to all marketplace operators, not just those on [that] platform. We have to make sure our interoperability standards are not specific to any particular technology. So that's Ariba, Oracle, SAP any technology platform.

In speeches, you have consistently been the champion of the little guys, the small and midsize companies. It's not just because I like the little guy. Small and midsized enterprises [represent] 65 percent of the [U.S.] economy. You can build giant applications for giant corporations and still only get 35 percent of the economy. So no [GTW] e-procurement or e-commerce plan will be complete without full inclusion of the second-, third- and fourth-tier manufacturers and suppliers in the supply chain.

Is there a danger that won't happen

Yes. . . . But eScout exists because we have [served] those little guys. I have 16,000 or 17,000 buying corporations in our marketplace, and I am seeing increased [spending] and increased transactions. Every week this year, we set a new record.

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