The show must go on

Imagine you are Andrew Lloyd Webber ready to put on your first Broadway show. You've composed a great musical score, you've chosen the best talent and you're ready to roll out the production. Opening night comes around and there aren't enough seats, the costume designers haven't delivered what they promised and the power fails so your lights and sound don't work.

So is the life of a visionary. With good planning and contingencies in place, you can make sure your opening night is not a disaster.e-commerce infrastructure refers to all the behind-the-scenes supporting mechanisms that make your show the success you would like. Ideally, infrastructure issues should be defined and decided upon before you commission your Web site. This is often where many companies with a great e-tail idea fall down, because what works in the physical world is often not the same in a virtual world.

Business considerations

It is really important to review your internal business processes and work out how they need to change to reflect the current B2B and B2C marketplace. Once you deploy your Web site, make sure it meshes with your internal processes.

Customer support

Your online store eliminates the need for shop attendants but there is always a need for client support. You can't predict when people will shop at your site, so you need to have instruments in place for servicing your clients' support requests at any hour. This may be via e-mail, call centre, or help files on your site. Your e-commerce provider may offer you with an administration centre to assist with this. Some call centre providers, such as Link Telecommunications, offer call centre services for both small and large companies. Link can answer your business phone in your name after hours and send a message to a mobile phone or pager to let you know that someone has called. Using an outsourced call centre can make a small company appear to be larger than it is which can enhance the perception your customers have of your business.

Order fulfilment

If you sell hard goods, you need to make certain that you have the proper fulfilment mechanisms to handle the demand for your goods. You also need to make sure your distribution facilities are readily expandable so your business can handle an increase in orders to cope with seasonal factors such as the Christmas rush. Many companies, such as Australia Post and TNT, provide outsourced order fulfilment services.

Security

Business owners need to take into consideration internal and external security. Internal security includes servers, operating platforms, software platforms and internal policies and procedures to protect data. External security includes the technology used to securely integrate with the Internet using firewalls and technology used to interact with the Internet such as encryption protocols.

Appropriate internal security measures include secure databases, firewalls and encryption, just to name a few. Secondly, businesses must ensure their servers are extremely secure. This includes using firewalls and minimising hacking points.

The major external technology issue is what encryption protocol is being used to secure data across the Internet. There are many options, but Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) have emerged as the favourites because the big players have adopted them as standard.

Operating platform

Your development team will advise on what is the best operating platform to suit your requirements. As a rough guide, Windows NT is a very user-friendly platform that is acceptable as a starting point for basic e-businesses. Unix offers a more robust solution, but is more time-consuming to develop. Linux is an extremely secure solution, but requires specialists to develop any applications such as shopping carts.

Servers

If you have mission-critical services, you might want to consider having multiple redundancy servers located around the globe. Another factor to consider is multi-point processing such as load balancing to distribute the transactions evenly. The number and type of servers used will depend on your transaction volume.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be transmitted in a fixed amount of time. For digital devices, the bandwidth is usually expressed in bits per second (bps) or bytes per second. Depending on what your site does or sells, it will require different levels of bandwidth. If your Web site is going to be super popular or has functions such as video streaming, you will need more bandwidth to accommodate these factors.

Taking all these factors into consideration before you commission your Web production will ensure you receive a standing ovation.

Amanda Mason is the PR & Marketing manager for Pure Commerce. Contact her at amanda@pure-commerce.com

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