It is very easy for a small “gap” in the flow of information to quickly develop into a Himalayan-type crevasse. However, a seamless Internet data infrastructure can be your company’s land bridge to effective communication with your customers.

In this interview, Bob Hagenau, director of product development at Acta Technology, Inc., answers questions concerning how information moves in and out of a company, a critical issue to IT strategists.

TechRepublic: What is the relationship between an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and an effective e-commerce strategy?
Hagenau: Effective e-commerce requires ERP information. We are seeing that the leading e-commerce companies, the ones that are really looking to differentiate their business through business-to-business and e-commerce, are exposing information that is core to their business and to their partners, such as customers, distributors, suppliers, or other trading partners.

TR: What type of information should organizations consider sharing with partners?
Hagenau: Information that addresses the questions, such as:

  • “What’s the status of my order?”
  • ”What have all the orders been year-to-date?”
  • “How much have I purchased this year against my contract purchase volumes?”

In addition, questions dealing with product availability and billing inquiries [should be addressed].

Acta Technology, Inc.

Acta provides Internet data infrastructure for e-commerce and business intelligence. The company is headquartered in Palo Alto, CA, and has offices worldwide, including London, Frankfurt, and Paris.

TR: Could you give an example of how making more information available can save a company money?
Hagenau: Take an account receivable department. Typically, what happens is that an account receivable department will call up a customer and say you’re 60 days overdue on this payment, resulting in back and forth communication where the customer requests an invoice or account statement. Once the customer gets that information, he or she may argue that there’s a discrepancy on this invoice. So there’s a lot of exchange of information and basically communication over the telephone. If you exchange that information electronically, an organization can save significantly because every time you pick up a phone you have the overhead cost of a phone call or fax. So if a company has millions of these interactions per year and they can automate those interactions, they have significant cost savings that could get into the millions of dollars.

TR: What are some of the challenges to efficiently sharing business information electronically?

  • E-commerce requires rapid response time. There is an expectation for a quick response for e-commerce users, and if they don’t get that they’re going to pick up the phone and call a help desk instead.
  • 24/7 availability. Availability 24 hours a day, seven days a week is crucial to global customers.
  • Need for both historical and real-time information. The historical information includes [the answers to questions such as], “What have been all the purchases for this year until now?” Whereas, the real-time information would answer, ”What is my order status right now at this very second?”
  • Scale to meet peak usage. The solution needs to be able to scale to meet peak usage, and oftentimes the ERP system is not designed to handle the types of usage spikes that e-commerce transactions cause.
  • Information required from multiple systems. Maybe multiple systems feed the e-commerce front end. So, you may be combining data from your ERP system with your legacy or third party systems.