The e-commerce dream

Publisher's Note

By Gerard Knapp

The e-commerce dream

In this issue's special feature on e-commerce, we have looked at two success stories of Australia's burgeoning .com community. Are there any lessons for the "bricks-and-mortar" companies to be learned from how these start-ups have attacked the big issues of database integration and supply chain management? At least the .coms could start out with a blank sheet, so in many ways they should work because they have no legacy systems to integrate or internal political issues to resolve with employees or their traditional sales and distribution channels.

These consumer-based Web sites enjoyed robust trading over Christmas and seemingly came out unscathed. Presents were delivered on time and there were no attacks on their repository of customer credit card numbers, or high numbers of fraud. It may be too early to tell, but they may have got it right.


"People will still be carrying their own processing power and data stores for a long while yet," says Microsoft executive Ross Dembecki in our feature in this issue on the company's new KM initiative called the Digital Dashboard (page 38).

What he is referring to is the role of the personal computer - even in portable mode - in contemporary information management and how users can better organise the myriad information sources which now clutter their desktop. That's one model; the other is to organise all the information at a central repository and have employees log on to this repository, known as the enterprise information portal, via the Internet using a much simpler and cheaper device.

Today, the senior executive's laptop is the take-away prize in the corporate information game. If that executive's laptop falls into the wrong hands, however, the effects could be quite damaging for his or her company or organisation.

Then there is the issue of speed of access to the main repository. To match the power of the current desktop and portable computing devices, the online model would need to connect to the central information store with bandwidth which is just out of range for all but the most high-end connections. Most users now take a 10 megabit per second ethernet link for granted. Indeed, many are now using 10 times that capacity.

On top of this are security issues. The likelihood of an attack on a private Web site which is only known to employees and has the latest firewall in place should be very remote. But the perception exists and it is one which the proponents of the Application Service Provider model - from heavyweights like Oracle all the way through to start-up ventures - would do well to address.

But bandwidth will remain the bottleneck. What was once a relatively precious resource is turning into a basic commodity item, as more and more telcos build fatter pipes to shift data from one centre to another. We can only hope that this dramatic increase in installed capacity actually flows on to the user. Unless there is some guaranteed level of service, the whole ASP model will not work. If an employee is used to working with an ASP while in the head office, then he or she should reasonably expect the thin client version of their database or ERP system will operate at the same speed as what it did in a client/server environment. Anything less would be a backward step.