Growth in E-Commerce and EDI

IT expert assesses the electronic commerce arena

The Oct. 8 session of the Software Forum/UniForum Unix Special Interest Group (SIG) offered attendees a timely and interesting presentation entitled "Electronic Commerce on the Internet," covering the latest developments and opportunities in e-commerce over the Internet. The presenter was Sukan Makmuri, vice president of enterprise architecture and standards for the Bank of America in Concord, CA, co-chair of the Unix SIG and member of UniForum's Technical Steering Committee. The session was held at Amdahl Corp.'s headquarters building in Sunnyvale, CA, and attracted about 50 computer professionals.

Makmuri covered the factors and impetus behind e-commerce over the Web, components needed for a successful Web e-commerce infrastructure and the opportunities that exist for entrepreneurs and consultants. He defined electronic commerce as an electronic-based methodology that addresses the needs of businesses and consumers for cutting costs while improving the quality of goods and the delivery of services. He said that, in general terms, an effective e-commerce system should be able to handle various data types, accommodate high-volume message activity, provide for 24 hours a day, seven days a week operation, and contain strong transaction management and application integration features.

"Carrying out e-commerce over the Web requires businesses to pay much more attention to access control and privacy issues."

Electronic Data Interchange
Makmuri related that until recently, most business-to-business e-commerce transactions occurred via e-mail, using an expensive batch form of electronic data interchange (EDI). He described an e-commerce pilot between Bank of America and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, CA, that uses batch EDI to handle 71,000 payments totaling $100 million with 1,500 suppliers. He added that most EDI transactions have been taking place primarily on value-added networks (VANs), and that the proliferation of TCP/IP networks and the Web has made it easier to interconnect various nodes, opening up the possibility that corporate intranets could be used as VANs. He pointed out that carrying out e-commerce over the Web requires businesses to pay much more attention to access control and privacy issues, and that authentication, non-repudiation and data integrity must all be addressed.

Makmuri believes that, at least for the remainder of this century, electronic commerce will continue to depend heavily on e-mail, and that "interactive" EDI will not really be the norm until there is a Web-based infrastructure (such as intranets) that can support transaction sessions. He concluded by pointing out that as Internet, networking, applications and other vendors increasingly claim e-commerce capability, the e-commerce marketplace will remain "confusing." He characterized the situation as offering "great opportunities" for entrepreneurs and consultants in the industry.

Software Forum is a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit organization dedicated to software professionals, with almost 1,000 members. Started in 1983, it informs and educates its members on all facets of the software industry. Software Forum sponsors 11 other SIGs, which meet once a month: Business Operations; Client/Server; International; Internet; Macintosh; Marketing; Mobile/Wireless; Multimedia; Networking; Visual Basic; and Windows. Call (415) 854-7219 for more information on the organization.

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