While dozens of brand-new business-to-business exchanges are eager to grab the spotlight, an older service provider used by high-tech manufacturers active in Asia offers a telling lesson on the advantages and drawbacks of online supply chains.
ECnet's services have been adopted during the past two years by hundreds of US and Asian manufacturers in the Far East. Companies such as Matsushita, Motorola and Mattel use ECnet services to share business information electronically.
While the advantages - such as faster order processing versus fax or phone - are clear, there's also a burden: the need for trading partners to conduct some necessary systems integration to get the most out of the supply-chain services.
ECnet is an Internet exchange that can convert documents into electronic data interchange, HTML, XML or proprietary formats such as SAP's iDoc and transmit them directly into an intended recipient's back-end system, Web server or mailbox.
ECnet sprang up because traditional EDI value-added networks aren't as widespread in Asia as they are in North America, and manufacturers that were big EDI users found their smaller suppliers were having trouble with the technology.
ECnet's document translation and processing costs are not particularly high - a few hundred dollars a month might be typical based on cost-per-kilobyte charges.
And ECnet demands no percentage of sales of the manufacturing parts ordered using its service, unlike many of the emerging online business-to-business exchanges.