There are people who think up new high-tech buzzwords for a living. They may call themselves analysts and work at prestigious think tanks, but when it comes right down to it, what they do is think up buzz words for a living. It is my task, then, to relay those buzzwords to you.
Collaborative commerce, or as think-tank functionaries who are prone to putting letters in front of words to make new ones now call it, "c-commerce," is another way of describing the process of allowing all parties involved to communicate and share data and business processes. It goes beyond simple e-procurement; the focus is a little more strategic than that. Whereas in e-procurement, the focus is on the buyer, c-commerce focuses on describing all companies involved as multiple elements of a single (although ever-changing) unit.
In a "collaborative commerce" environment, everyone involved has equal access to all of the resources, applications and information they need to be a successful participant in the supply chain. We tend to think of a supply chain as linear, with each party connected to the party in front of and behind them. However, this isolates each link in the chain from everyone outside of who is directly adjacent. C-commerce environments expand this to provide more access to everyone involved. C-commerce is driven by a fundamental change in business, expressed in a new willingness to work together over an open, Internet-based system of connectivity and collaboration. When companies come together in this way, there's a natural competitive advantage. A company that is collaborating with ten other companies in a way makes up a much larger, single "virtual" organization that is much more powerful than the sum of its parts. The new virtual network of companies is able to compete against much larger organizations, because even though together, the virtual organization may be as large as a competitor, each company within the c-commerce environment has the advantage of mobility that is typical of a smaller organization.
According to Gartner Group (the think tank credited with coming up with this new buzzword), several different types of software vendors are vying for the title of c-commerce backbone provider. Gartner says that those companies that do end up leading the c-commerce market must be able to create an architecture that can aggregate information from multiple systems, so collaboration can take place across the board--down to the lowest level of the enterprise. Like e-commerce though, c-commerce is more of a concept than it is a discrete function that can be implemented through software. To be sure, there are and will be tools to facilitate c-commerce, but like everything else in the Internet realm, the first step is a change in mindset. Getting everybody on the same page and getting them to agree to share information is no mean feat, yet it has become essential to staying competitive in today's marketplace.