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Net Prophet - by Dylan Tweney

September 21, 1998

Through the looking glass: I-commerce from the other side

Buying Chain smooths purchasing cycle for corporations

When Alice jumps through the mirror in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, she discovers that the world beyond is quite a bit more fantastic than her own.

From her side it looked much the same (only reversed), but when she gets there, the looking glass world contains unusual things that had been just out of sight -- the Red Queen, Humpty Dumpty, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Like Alice, Internet-commerce observers will find themselves in a strange world when they jump through the mirror from the selling side of I-commerce to the buying side.

Yet the buying side is where IT managers stand to benefit the most from Internet technologies and electronic automation.

Until now, most I-commerce products have focused on enabling companies to sell goods and services to other companies or to consumers.

Few retailers can resist the promised efficiencies and seemingly sweet demographics of the Internet channel, but many are still waiting for a sufficiently large audience of online purchasers to form.

On the buying side, however, it's all about efficiencies. Companies have to buy raw materials, tools, and office supplies, yet orders for these materials are typically forced through inefficient, paper-bound systems. Why not simplify that process by moving it online? The increased efficiency will guarantee savings and have a positive bottom-line impact.

Curiouser and curiouser

Of course, the issues that concern I-commerce implementers on the buying side are very different than on the selling side. Rather than offering consumers more choices, implementers on the buying side want to limit the choices employees have to a few authorized products. Instead of marketing and merchandising, applications for the buying side require a means of consolidating orders to maximize bulk discounts.

Buy-side applications need to integrate not only with a company's back-end systems, but also with the online catalogs of vendors from which that company purchases products.

These procurement applications also need to include a workflow component so that requests for new supplies can be routed to the appropriate managers for approval before they're sent off to the vendor for fulfillment.

A few vendors have addressed the buying side of I-commerce with software aimed at simplifying procurement workflows -- most notably Ariba, which released its Java-based procurement application last year.

Yet Ariba's solution can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement.

Enter Trilogy, whose Buying Chain software aims to give small and midsize companies the power to automate their procurement processes for just a few thousand dollars.

The beauty of Trilogy's system is that it doesn't lock companies into a particular supplier. If you install Buying Chain to automate procurement of office supplies from Office Depot (a Trilogy partner), you can use the same software later with a Trilogy-enabled PC vendor.

Trilogy says it will integrate a vendor's Web site to work with Buying Chain -- so for vendors, it's a no-brainer. Trilogy will make its money by selling Buying Chain to companies that want to increase their purchasing efficiency. And those companies will save money and gain greater control over their purchasing processes.

Dylan Tweney (dylan@infoworld.com) has been covering the Internet since 1993. He edits InfoWorld's intranet and Internet-commerce product reviews.

Previous columns by Dylan Tweney

Directory standard will be the linchpin of business commerce
September 14, 1998

Market pressures will change the shape of online advertising
September 7, 1998

Keeping up with the Joneses is tough for Net directories
August 31, 1998

Real estate site aims to make a home sweet home on the Internet
August 24, 1998

Every column since August, 1997

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Copyright © 1999 InfoWorld Media Group Inc.

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