FRAMINGHAM (04/26/2000) - What most business-to-business e-commerce customers want from their suppliers' Web sites are just the facts. Requests for business information are usually very specific, such as when and how an order was shipped or how much a company owes on its account.
At Albemarle Corp., a $900 million chemicals manufacturer in Richmond, Virginia, all of that data - plus lots more - is available in a back-end system based on SAP AG's R/3 applications. But the challenge is extracting and presenting the specific information that Web-based business customers want without unleashing a data deluge.
To do that, Albemarle is installing new software that was released last week by Acta Technology Inc. in Mountain View, California.
So far, Acta said, nine companies - all SAP users looking to launch or expand electronic-business operations - have bought the e-Cache software, which is being sold as a way to quickly deliver back-office data in specific subject areas to Web-based customers.
"Going directly into SAP, you have to look at a lot of information," said John McChesney, Albemarle's manager of customer e-business initiatives. And R/3 wasn't meant to handle frequent online requests, McChesney added. But now, Albemarle's customers can "get information from SAP in a convenient way," he said.
The e-Cache software is essentially a group of packaged databases that link front-end commerce systems with back-office R/3 servers and process requests for real-time and historical data needed to complete business-to-business transactions, according to Acta officials.
"It's fair to say that the (R/3) architecture wasn't designed to handle large Web requests, but we've been providing Internet software for the last three or four years," said Jon Wurfl, a customer relationship management evangelist at SAP. And the German vendor's new mySAP.com Internet framework is specifically designed to handle online requests, Wurfl added.
McChesney said Albemarle considered SAP's electronic-business software, including pieces of the mySAP.com framework. But he added that the company "saw the value of Acta being greater and more valuable to us."
So did Jesse Rocha, information manager at The Westlake Group, a Houston-based chemicals maker.
One reason is that in addition to SAP-based data, the Acta software can extract and present data from Westlake's legacy systems, which contain certain rail shipping information that Web-based customers need, Rocha said.
Security was another factor.
"On the business-to-business side, we don't want anyone hitting our (SAP) database directly," Rocha said. With Acta's software, Westlake puts e-Cache outside its corporate firewall, "but only with the information we want to release," he said. "We don't worry about customers going into other areas. And (it's) not just for security reasons. We also don't want them bogging down the servers."