Pan-European Internet ecommerce will come a step closer to reality in January when GE Information Systems (GEIS) begins a pilot Extranet scheme running on Tradanet, the biggest European EDI network.
Tradanet is used by over 7,000 of Europe's largest organisations. Initially the pilot will involve setting up three hubs to bring Internet-based ecommerce facilities to 150 participants.
EDI can already be extended to include the interchange of textual documents under the X.400 standard, but GEIS' Tradanet Extra will provide the full capabilities of Web-based communications.
Andy Robson, GEIS' director of corporate affairs, said he expects companies to use Tradanet Extra to exchange trading documentation and user manuals, and supply planning information and transport schedules. "Essentially we are establishing an Extranet for the whole supply chain, not just for one retailer," said Robson.
Adding Extranet capabilities to conventional EDI enables traders to use the ubiquity and ease of use of the Web, but retain the security of sharing email and documentation with known trading partners in a closed environment. Concerns over the lack of security on the Internet have delayed many organisations from adopting Web-based ecommerce.
GEIS will also use the service to provide online technical assistance.
David Hughes, chairman of the GE User Group, welcomed the move. Feedback from the pilot will be evaluated before Tradanet Extra is rolled out to all 7,000 participants, said Robson.
The basic service will be free of charge to Tradanet users with a yet to be decided charge levied on 'premium' services, such as online business applications, when the service is fully operational.
Earlier this month, GE sold back to Netscape the interests it had in Actra, a joint venture formed between the two companies last March to develop Internet-based ecommerce products. Five products were launched: ECXpert, SellerXpert, BuyerXpert, MerchantXpert and PublishingXpert (see previous story).
Despite these products' obvious fit with its ecommerce business, GEIS has handed development back to Netscape. "For us the mission has been accomplished and we have no desire to be a supplier of off the shelf software," said Robson.
But it would appear from sources that objections from Microsoft - whose ecommerce products GEIS resells - over the closeness of GEIS and Netscape, and the whiff of a Stateside antitrust suit, were also keen motivators for Actra to revert to Netscape.
Of the relationship with Netscape and Microsoft, Robson said: "We are still a preferred systems integrator for Netscape, but now we have a more even handed relationship with them both."
GEIS was advised that continuing as both developer and reseller of Actra products could invoke a US antitrust investigation given the size of the company's dominant position in EDI: it is the largest supplier with a community of over 40,000 trading partners, equivalent to a market share of more than 50 per cent.
Dark matter holds the Universe together - and gravitational waves could help identify it
Addison Lee is working on autonomous taxis for commuting and pleasure
IBM and Technical University of Munich team demonstrate how Shor's algorithm, which can't be cracked by conventional computers, can be solved quickly with quantum computing
Hubble Space Telescope finds superflares from young red dwarfs could strip away planetary atmosphere
Younger stars are 100 to 1,000 times more energetic than when they're older