Stories by Tony Martell

Ten Ways to Fail at E-Commerce

Here's fact one about e-commerce in the year 2000: nobody - nobody - has a reliable prescription for success. Not even us. It's just too early to say, "This works, guaranteed." Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

The shape of things to come

Convergence, if it hasn't already sunk in, is well and truly upon us. The old distinctions between telecommunications and networking - voice and long haul on the one hand, corporate data networks onthe other - means less andless every day, and soon will mean next to nothing.

Hackers Raise the Stakes

Monday, Feb. 7, 2000, about 1:30 p.m. Music retailer HMV Canada's bustling e-commerce site has abruptly and without warning gone haywire. Servers are running flat out but can't cope with a sudden inundation of ostensibly legitimate requests. Memory buffers and hard disks overflow. Customers can't make purchases or even access the site. HMV's systems begin to grind to a halt. The company is under attack by cyber vandals. The symptoms are identical to the so-called denial of service attacks on high-profile e-commerce sites in the United States. Victims of those attacks included top sites such as eBay and "We had a flood of requests from an unknown source -- exponentially higher than normal traffic," explains Rodney McBrien, Toronto-based director of Information Systems for HMV North America. "It was a spike in the millions [of page hits] that basically overwhelmed our site." The company makes the decision at this point to close the site. "We knew we couldn't serve the public," McBrien says. "So we brought our systems down to collect information on what was happening during the attack to analyse later." HMV puts log data on a tape and forwards it to the RCMP. An hour later the site is back up, business as usual. The hackers have disappeared into the ether, leaving few traces. (At press time, the case was still under investigation.) A random act of cyber violence? Possibly. But the larger implications of this and other recent hacker attacks on e-commerce companies go well beyond the immediate impacts on victims, raising disturbing questions for consumers and e-tailers. The victims, ironically, were known for their e-security savvy and had taken virtually every precaution they could. The same cannot be said of most e-tailers. Most could do a lot more to secure their sites. Perhaps these attacks are the wake-up call they need. And maybe that was their point.

Is E-cruiting the Answer?

When job seekers or the merely curious click on one of the positions posted at Bombardier Aerospace's recruitment Web site, they may be taken aback to find the interview process starts right there and then. Montreal-based Bombardier Aerospace, a Bombardier Inc. division that builds executive jets, doesn't just provide a mechanism at its site for e-mailing a resume or filling in a job application. It prescreens applicants on the spot with a series of click-to-answer questions designed to determine how qualified they are for a particular job. To apply for the Peoplesoft Business Analyst position posted in January, for example, you had to respond to the following questions: "What is your highest level of education? How many years experience do you have with Peoplesoft? How many Peoplesoft implementations have you done?" Each question is assigned a weighted value. Although they appear at Bombardier's site, the job postings and prescreening questions actually reside on a server operated by California-based ASP Inc.