SAN MATEO (07/31/2000) - Despite the varied faces among the new crop of online marketplaces, all require the same foundation: content. In providing descriptions and data about products and services being offered through an exchange, content is a vital link between buyers and sellers.
Creating and managing content is proving to be a challenge, however. Although exchanges aim to make online buying a faster and more streamlined process than traditional print catalog-shopping, many online marketplaces are finding that much of the catalog-type content they need to conduct business is not formatted for digital use. And even if this data has been converted, it is often not in a clean form that the exchange can use.
"That's where some of the challenge is; getting the product data online, whether it's marketing collateral or product spec sheets," says Kent Allen, a senior e-commerce analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc., in Boston.
Several companies have stepped up to help businesses create and manage catalog and other online business content, whether on their own e-commerce and procurement sites or in marketplaces. These content managers fall into three general categories, says Mark Nicolett, research director for software infrastructure at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group Inc.: aggregators, which collect and leverage large chunks of content; content-development service providers, which also handle the process of creating content; and software/solution providers, which give companies the tools to manage and clean up data.
Westminster, Colo.-based Requisite Technology focuses on turning a business's paper catalog content into digital form and either managing it as an outsourcer or returning the content to a business to manage.
Requisite chairman and CEO Barbara Mowry says that the ultimate goal is to "create unified catalogs across suppliers," overcoming the two biggest hurdles she believes online exchanges are facing: the lack of available, usable content and the lack of a common content format so data can be used across marketplaces.
Requisite places content into its Requisite unified structure, from which it can be converted into whatever form a company needs to interact with a commerce engine such as Commerce One's or Ariba's. The company also offers eMerge, a content management and catalog toolset, and Bugseye, a natural-language search engine.
Don Swenson, vice president of business development at San Jose, Calif.-based Saqqara Systems, says that finding a consistent form for e-content plays a huge role in the "collaborative commerce" of marketplaces. "Product content needs to be fluidly exchanged in XML standards between trading partners [as well as] between machine and machine," Swenson says.
Through their Cornerstone ASP (application service provider) model, Saqqara provides applications to help suppliers get content structured and managed, as well as managing the different content forms of trading partners and enabling the exchange of the content.
The explosion of vertical marketplaces is also influencing the need for catalog content to be moved online, a space on which I2 Technologies Inc. -- which recently acquired Aspect Development to add aggregator e-content services to its portfolio -- is setting its sights.
Focusing on the business supply chain, Dallas-based i2 Technologies offers customers the option of buying and leveraging reference content from its collection, which can then be used in marketplaces and exchanges or to fill in a company's own online catalog.
"All of those catalogs are the underlying enabler. All of that information is the underlying enabler of b-to-b e-commerce," says Caroline Devore-Kenney, i2's vice president of sales and business development.
"You really cannot effectively transact business with another company if you don't all speak the same language. You have to know exactly, specifically what you're talking about across distributors and suppliers and manufacturers," Devore-Kenney says.