Error 404--Not Found
From RFC 2068 Hypertext Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.1:
10.4.5 404 Not Found
The server has not found anything matching the Request-URI. No indication is given of whether the condition is temporary or permanent.
If the server does not wish to make this information available to the client, the status code 403 (Forbidden) can be used instead. The 410 (Gone) status code SHOULD be used if the server knows, through some internally configurable mechanism, that an old resource is permanently unavailable and has no forwarding address.
Knowing whether to build or outsource an e-comm site can set you on a straight and steady course to a successful implementation.
By MARK GIBBS
Let's cut to the chase here: Electronic commerce promises to be big. Some industry watchers estimate the number of dollars generated through business-to-business transactions alone will reach into the hundreds of billions, if not trillions, within the not-too-distant future.International Data Corp., for example, projects that the worldwide figure for business-to-business sales over the Internet will soar to $331 billion by 2002, as companies large and small use the 'Net for procurement, bill presentation and provisioning. Compare that with the $28 billion or so reached in 1998, says the Framing-ham, Mass., market research firm. That $28 billion represents a lot of companies that have already heeded the Internet's call. The $331 billion projection means plenty more will be going online. Most companies have virtually no choice. E-commerce is the way of the future. "I don't care if you're selling wooden stools, electronic commerce is going to be key to your company's success," asserts Paul Hoffman, director of sales and marketing at MCI Advanced Networks' hosting and e-commerce group in Columbus, Ohio. Smart managers are moving quickly to get their companies online - early arrival on the World Wide Web garners customer attention and, if the e-commerce site works well, loyalty. Yet, network managers have got to make some critical decisions regarding e-commerce, the most pressing among them being whether to buy off-the-shelf servers and customize heavily or just outsource the entire project. Making an informed decision on building or outsourcing an e-commerce site requires more than creating a detailed list of pros and cons. It starts with an understanding of corporate intent. And that, sometimes, means IT has to generate the vision and secure top-level commitment. These are not trivial matters. A poorly articulated vision or lackadaisical executive support can doom an e-commerce project, industry experts repeatedly point out. When it comes to the vision thing, think customer, customer, customer, says Phil Gibson, director of interactive marketing at National Semiconductor in Santa Clara, Calif. At National, which was an early e-commerce adopter, the vision centers on providing customers, who are electronic design engineers, with product information. Every decision about National's e-commerce site relates to its customer vision, Gibson says. National's e-commerce team constantly asks: "How do we supply information, and how do we satisfy the customer?" he says. At The Toro Company, the e-commerce vision builds on the idea of creating a secured, gated community for golf-course superintendents, says Cindi Love, director of customer service systems at the Bloomington, Minn., maker of consumer and commercial landscaping products. "My job is to establish a robust Internet-enabled infrastructure and to leverage technology to make superintendents' jobs easier," she says. Toro provides equipment to 21,000 golf course superintendents worldwide. "Imagine trying to build a network for all of them to participate, including order entry and inventory, without the Internet - it would be cost-prohibitive," Love adds. The technical and architectural decisions you make regarding a business-to-business site should differ considerably from the choices you'd make if you were planning a business-to-consumer site, Gibson and others say. National Semiconductor, for example, can largely overlook the need to support credit card payments because transactions flow through the company's traditional billing systems. A retailer, on the other hand, would make credit card processing a prime consideration. "Consumer e-commerce is about branding and impulse buying - customers want convenience. Business-to-business e-commerce is about customer relationships and automation of processes - businesses want control and analysis," says Brian Valente, senior director of marketing at Just in Time Solutions, an online billing presentation software vendor in San Francisco. Amazon.com, the huge bookseller, and Chemdex.com, a source for biological and chemical reagents, are cases in point, Valente says. He notes that Amazon. com's goal is to make purchasing easier, so consumers buy more, whereas Chemdex.com's goal is to extend the contractual relationships it already has with clients. "Business-to-business e-commerce requires integration with existing standards and systems. There's not as much novelty in the way business is done, and there's much more responsibility for both parties. You are, in essence, automating an existing vendor/customer relationship," Valente says. Some experts say a corporate vision has to focus on e-business, not just e-commerce. The latter, they argue, is limited to what happens at the interface between the company and the Internet. E-commerce involves presenting data, accepting information and forming a bridge connecting the client and customer service. Dell Computer, for example, includes in its definition of e-commerce a telephone order placed by an individual who has used a Web site to gather product information, says Mike Dunn, chief technology officer at Dell Online. Following the same logic, a company that accepts orders over the Internet but prints them out and faxes them to a warehouse for order fulfillment would be conducting e-commerce. But e-business means a deeper level of integration with core business systems. In e-business, orders stay electronic as they travel through credit control, manufacturing and into the warehouse. One could say that Toro, for example, practices e-business, not just e-commerce. "Basically, everything we do on the front end with customers is going to be running across an extranet and linking to legacy systems or our SAP enterprise resource planning software," Love says. That means golf course superintendents can enter orders, check the status of purchase orders, register products, get invoices, submit warranty claims, check prices, submit remittances and conduct other commerce basics without ever picking up the phone or looking at a fax, Love says. Making e-commerce work with the existing IT infrastructure is a huge undertaking. In particular, integrating a Web front end with billing systems is a "legacy nightmare," Valente says. Does that mean you can't buy one of the e-commerce servers touted by a company, such as IBM, Microsoft or Netscape, and easily launch an e-commerce site? Not necessarily. If you want a simple site that doesn't connect into back-end business systems, you could get away with using an e-commerce server you've downloaded off the Web. Most e-commerce server vendors make it fairly easy to get a basic site up and running. Some offer a variety of templates for basic e-commerce functions. For example, IBM's Net.Commerce Start software comes with three prototype storefronts, bundled database services, various payment collection services and links to legacy accounting systems. And, like most e-commerce systems, everything is customizable, from site presentation to how orders are processed. But be aware, too, that some e-commerce servers are not scalable or sophisticated enough for use on a production site. They are much more appropriate for pilot tests, Valente says. In all likelihood, if you're creating an e-commerce architecture that taps into existing business systems, you'll have to hire outside developers or, at the least, be ready for some serious handholding with your e-commerce server vendor. All major server platforms, including Net.Commerce Start, Microsoft's Site Server and Open Market's Transact, require customization. "There's no such thing as turnkey in this market," says Geri Speiler, a Gartner Group analyst who authored an e-commerce report for the Stamford, Conn., firm. What's more, Speiler says, e-commerce servers aren't nearly as stable or mature as traditional business systems, including those for billing and customer service. "Not that e-commerce vendors aren't developing important solutions; the problems of hooking into the back end get you," she says. The same could be said of e-commerce catalog software, says Brad Kerr, chief information officer at Ha-Lo Industries, a promotional advertising firm in Niles, Ill. Ha-Lo has to tackle an interesting mix of business-to-business and business-to-consumer issues in its e-commerce implementations. Its customers, companies such as Ford, NBC and Reynolds Metal, post online catalogs from which shoppers can buy merchandise bearing the companies' respective corporate logos. "One of the interesting things we've discovered in the past year as we've implemented e-commerce with our clients is that there is no out-of-the-box solution. We have about 15 e-commerce programs with our clients and no two are identical," Kerr says. The complexity of e-commerce development work and the newness of the market often lead a company to an outsourcing firm. Ha-Lo, for example, has outsourced its e-commerce endeavors to Metamor Technologies in Chicago. "In an environment where there are no agreed-upon standards and where every implementation has been a custom system, by virtue of outsourcing I get access to skills that I'd never have in my own IT department," Kerr says. Even Ha-Lo's largest customers have outsourced development of their e-commerce architectures and implementations, Kerr notes: "No one has the expertise to do this in-house. There are too many moving parts." That bodes well for e-commerce outsourcing practices, many of which have sprung up in traditional IT consulting houses, new Internet-specific ventures or as exclusive start-ups. Some firms specialize in hosting Web servers, others promote creative capabilities for building the customer interface, while others tout abilities to integrate e-commerce software with back-end systems. But choosing to outsource does not guarantee success, Gartner's Speiler notes: "No one yet provides complete service - all have problems, such as connectivity and functionality to the back end. No one offers a true one-stop shop, and no vendor can do it all; many outsourcers outsource themselves." Chuck Papageorgiou, managing partner of Ideasphere Consulting in Atlanta, recommends distinguishing between the strategic processes, such as billing, and the tactical, such as the order-taking front end. "The latter you can easily outsource - that's the domain of traditional outsourcing. But the strategic processes are the ones you need to control carefully," he says. If you're outsourcing the whole project, make sure you keep control of your corporate data. "When you're choosing an outsourcer, you must ensure that all data the outsourcer receives is available to you and that you can deal with it - it's your information and you own it. You don't want the outsourcer selling or using your customer information," Speiler says. Outsourcing doesn't come cheap. Speiler figures that a $10 million company should expect to spend approximately $200,000 for a fully integrated e-commerce system. But, she adds, "You can spend as little or as much as you want." Prices for mid-range, packaged e-commerce software begin as low as $3,500. IBM's Net.Commerce Start costs $4,999. Net.Commerce Pro ups the ante to $19,999. Pricing for Open Market's Transact 4, a top-end system, starts at $125,000. Toro received bids ranging from slightly less than $1 million to a bit more than $8 million from outsourcers seeking to build the company's e-commerce extranet, Love says.Twelve companies, including traditional outsourcing firms and e-commerce software vendors, bid for the project. Toro opted for a bid on the lower end of that spectrum. Outsourcing may be an expensive option, but it could be your only choice for getting online quickly. Speiler predicts 30% of major enterprises will outsource some or all of their e-commerce services by 2001. (See story, page 48, for a guide to picking an outsourcing firm.) The decision should be driven by a realistic assessment of outsourcing costs weighed against whether you have the infrastructure, Ideasphere's Papageorgiou says. By infrastructure, he means the equipment and systems, as well as the staff, experience and time. The latter is critical. "If you have to take time to develop staff and experience, having the rest won't give you a competitive edge," he says. But how fast can and should you move in launching an e-commerce site? Kerr says that if everybody's done their homework, Ha-Lo and a client can launch an e-commerce catalog site within three weeks. Gibson says what worked for National Semiconductor was getting basic information up quickly and then refining the site frequently while increasing its sophistication. That approach is typical of the way most normal e-commerce sites evolve, MCI's Hoffman agrees. Dividing an e-commerce project into four multifaceted phases - preparation, development, execution and refinement - would be a wise move. "Many companies are doing a phased approach because there's little choice - technology is changing so fast that they have to execute the project in phases," Gartner Group's Speiler says. Thinking in terms of e-commerce and the bigger picture, e-business, takes time. But don't delay. Getting a site up is not just an issue of seizing competitive opportunity, but also one of establishing momentum within your organization. National's Gibson is convinced you can't afford any delay. "The reality is you cannot wait for the perfect implementation or you'll never get to market." Signature Series Executive Editor Beth Schultz contributed to this story.
Gibbs is a consultant and writer based in Ventura, Calif. He can be reached at (800) 622-1108, Ext. 7504, or mgibbs@ gibbs.com.Take it to the edge
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