First of all, what is the marketplace for e-Commerce going to look like? From reports supplied by leading industry analysts, IDC, Forester and Gartner Group, there are two categories that define the e-Commerce arena for the future: the business-to-consumer (B2C) market and the business-to-business (B2B) market. The B2C market is that segment of the e-Commerce marketplace that sells to the consumer. This is exemplified by companies like Amazon.com and Buy.com, which are typical dot.com companies, and "brick-and-mortar" companies like Barnes & Nobles and Circuit City, which have Internet e-Commerce offerings in addition to physical retail outlets. The B2B market is comprised of companies that sell to other companies over the Internet. This marketplace includes companies that sell goods such as office supplies and computer equipment but also includes ASPs (Application Service Providers) and companies providing services such as accounting and payroll processing.
The forecasts for these two markets are astonishing. The B2C market is expected to be around $400 billion by 2003 while the B2B market is expected to be $4 trillion. These numbers are actually the conservative forecasts! Forester has the B2B market growing to $7 trillion by 2003.
The ASP segment of the B2B market is expected to have exponential growth. ASPs are companies that provide the infrastructure and support for hosting applications that other companies essentially rent. How does this work? Let's say I own a company, I need an accounting package and I don't want to spend all the money required for hardware, software and support. I could go to an ASP and contract to use the software hosted and supported by the ASP. All I purchase is the use of the software. That gets me back to running my business rather than paying significant dollars to own and manage all the resources the software requires.
A lot of companies are going to be putting together their own e-Commerce packages. What makes an e-Commerce application successful? The experts are saying that customization and personalization are two of the biggest factors that bring people back to a Web site. If you look at the more successful e-Commerce sites, you will see this in practice.
Technical support is one of the business areas that should be on a company's Web site if it is to be a successful site for Customers. The ability to go to the Web and get information and support is a growing demand from consumers. Tracking where a Customer is in the Web site and determining just the right point at which to initiate human contact is important. When a click analysis shows that a Customer is confused or can't find something, having the Web site offer to connect to a support person is a big plus.
Now that the Internet has become a force of business, e-Commerce is the arena in which Customers will be courted. And these Customers are no longer just consumers but distributors, service providers and business partners also. B2B will move beyond electronic data interchange (EDI). It is becoming an integral part of how businesses cooperate and fine tune themselves to increase efficiency and productivity.
E-Commerce and the Law
The seminar, E-Commerce and the Law, that I attended at the spring COMDEX conference in Chicago was subtitled, A Seminar for Non-Lawyers on How Not To Get Burned Online. It was enlightening and frightening at the same time. If there is a comforting thought, it's that all progressive software companies are involved in some stage of e-Commerce and that the laws are developing slowly behind the technology. We are all breaking new ground together. That makes me feel a little better in that even if we inadvertently commit a cyber-sin, so might thousands of other companies out there that are also pushing the development envelope.
While laws are developing much slower than the technology, attendees were cautioned against taking a gunslinger kind of attitude that the Internet is an unregulated wild west frontier. Copyright, trademark and patents laws absolutely DO apply to the Internet. If you are doing business overseas, you may be subject to foreign jurisdiction, even if you're an American company with your Web site in the United States. Defamation and unfair or deceptive trade practice laws are enforceable on the Internet. And even though there is very little law addressing privacy issues, bad business practices are generating a wealth of lawsuits.
Developers can't wait, though, for the law to catch up. The advice I came away with was to do the best you can and treat your e-Commerce efforts just like you would any other business practice. Protect your intellectual property, honor trademark and copyright laws, develop a set of terms and conditions for your Web site, and develop an effective privacy program. Just like tackling any other new business opportunity, you should consult a lawyer experienced in e-Commerce, try to achieve mainstream compliance, accept some level of risk, and deal with problems when and if they occur. Don't wait for the law to make everything perfectly clear. Waiting for complete clarity could mean never getting your e-Commerce site launched.
Recently, BASIS President George Hight and I took an opportunity to visit with one of BASIS' European distributors, LCS Systemen BV, a few of our valued European Customers and one of BASIS' key accounts, Citibank in London. In demonstrating and discussing BASIS current products and BBj™ with them, we gathered some extremely valuable feedback.
The first stop was LCS, located in a small city outside of Amsterdam. They distribute a number of computer software packages and are responsible for reseller distribution of BASIS products in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. We spent an afternoon at LCS reviewing the current BASIS product line, some of the new product enhancements and, of course, the product plans for BBj. It was a busy afternoon. LCS has been extremely helpful, and there were extensive discussions revolving around our European Customers' needs and their perception of the best way to package the BBj products. Along with meeting with LCS personnel, we were able to visit with some of their resellers also.
We spent the better part of another day visiting Aucon BV. Aucon is in the process of revitalizing a Nixdorf automobile application. Aucon gave a very provocative presentation at TechCon99, and it was equally interesting to see how far the development has progressed. Aside from the initial language conversion, Aucon is also doing extensive GUI work and application infrastructure redesign. Its development team is very well structured and staffed with some talented Business Basic programmers. My favorite feature of the Aucon development project is the fact that all development is done using BASIS tools such as GUIBuilder™, ResBuilder® and the Grid Management Library (GML). While visiting Aucon, we were introduced to a Danish company that produces a SQL reporting toolset. This toolset can integrate well with BASIS application development and is part of the BASIS family of development products. You will be hearing more about SW-Tools and its TRIO suite of tools. (Check out this issue's demo CD for demonstration programs.)
Next, we were off to visit with InterAccess. InterAccess has an application specializing in production/distribution that is written in BBx®. InterAccess currently uses UNIX in its standard configuration but is preparing for the leap into an intranet configuration using a thin client when BBj is released. We demonstrated some of the functionality of BBj to the InterAccess development team and discussed its development direction.
The next visit was to a development group called BCS. This is a group of consultant programmers that work with a variety of programming languages, including BBx. We demonstrated our current product line along with the new features like 64-bit files, sockets and the GML. We also demonstrated the currently implemented features of BBj, including running a character application in a browser. BCS made suggestions for some design enhancements to the BASIS development tools. This included some application integration ideas between DDBuilder® and GUIBuilder to facilitate graphical development. This was an extremely productive meeting for both parties.
Then, we were off to London to visit with the Citicorp group responsible for the enterprise's central and eastern Europe information systems. Citibank has been a BBx user for a number of years and has an extensive number of programs and programmers utilizing the language. Here again, we demonstrated the changes in design infrastructure between BBx and BBj. Citibank is such a large and geographically diverse organization that the additional functionality of the BBj Data Server™ and the robust design of the thin client are particularly applicable to its enterprise. Citibank has many years of experience in its development staff, who shared with us some of their thoughts on design enhancements to the BASIS ODBC Driver® and associated SQL functions.
Overall, it was a valuable and enjoyable trip through Europe. We managed to visit Customers across the spectrum of the BASIS clientele: LCS, a distributor; Aucon, a finished product developer; BCS, programming consultants; and Citibank, a large corporate client. Solid evidence of the power and diversity of the BBx language.
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