Overcoming the reluctance to treat electronic documents in the same manner as their paper counterparts is one of the main obstacles of business-to-business e-commerce, says one user.
Peter Ross, a partner at accounting firm Pannell Kerr Forster, rolled out the Lotus-based Streamlink electronic procurement package two years ago.
He said the company spent around $35,000 on the project, which currently has 35 users. While those users were initially hesitant to give electronic forms and ordering the same significance as paper forms, Ross said the system was being used to successfully trim time and money from the procurement process. He said the system delivered time savings of a "couple of days" in achieving rapid turn-around times on orders.
Now Ross is looking at rolling out Streamlink's e-Procure, the Web-enabled release, to 200 users at Pannell Kerr Forster.
Six years ago, Lotus developer Sentor developed the initial Streamlink product for the-then Price Waterhouse before selling it to Coopers & Lybrand, which has been using it internally for the past three years. The success of the product prompted Sentor to spin off a new company, Streamlink, this month.
Ross said Pannell Kerr Forster would upgrade to e-Procure before the end of the financial year. He said the new release was designed using Internet standards, which would "make the difference" within the company and with its suppliers. Previously the product relied on users at both ends having Lotus Notes.
"It means we can realistically expect our suppliers to interact with us, instead of by using the fax as the lowest common denominator," Ross said. "We can use Internet e-mail to interface with them and that makes life a lot easier."
Streamlink managing director Martin Fisk said the new release, e-Procure, was based on a browser metaphor which meant users at both ends just needed an Internet connection to browse catalogues, place orders and for suppliers to receive orders.
Fisk said Streamlink's objective for e-Procure was to focus business-to-business commerce on the customer, where traditionally the focus has been on the supplier side.
E-Procure can hold a customer's business rules, security, budgets and it also integrates with most enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, Fisk said.
He said US research showed electronic procurement provided users with operating cost systems of between five and 10 per cent. The savings came from reduced processing costs, the ability to negotiate better deals and by minimising unauthorised purchases, he said.
Customers used the product for purchases from $2 to $5 million on anything from stationery to consultancy services, Fisk said.
Interest in e-Procure has been promising, he said, with one of the big four banks currently rolling it out globally.