What is it: Web commerce tool.
Applications: primarily intended for business-to-business transactions.
Orderpoint, along with Icat and Microsoft Merchant Server, is one of a new breed of package aimed at the burgeoning Web commerce market.
Speedware has designed it for business-to-business transactions rather than business-to-consumer for two main reasons. First, according to research group Input, the business-to-business market is expected to be the larger one. It predicts that, by 2000, business-to-business sales over the Internet will outstrip consumer sales by about three to one.
Second, business-to-business transactions do not normally involve online payment because orders placed via the Internet will be invoiced and paid for by conventional systems. This means business-to-business solutions are much quicker and easier to set up. That said, Orderpoint can also be used for consumer transactions because it supports third-party technologies to handle secure end-to-end financial transactions (see the Mail Marketing Group case study on page 126).
Speedware claims that Orderpoint can cut costs for buyers and sellers. Since purchasing is an expensive activity, this could provide some competitive advantage as any supplier who uses it will be both easier and cheaper to do business with. In addition, the supplier?s salespeople will be freed from the order-taking process to concentrate on more productive activities.
According to Speedware, traditional electronic data interchange (EDI), which is also aimed at business transactions, has been difficult and expensive to implement. By contrast, it claims that Orderpoint is quick and easy to set up, something which is confirmed by the users we spoke to.
Orderpoint maintains its own database of products for sale, along with product information (including sound and video), graphics and pricing. The customer has flexibility in how to integrate this with existing systems. One possibility is to keep the Orderpoint system entirely separate. This means that product information can be imported from an existing database to avoid re-keying.
The next step towards full integration, and one adopted as a permanent solution by some customers, is to allocate a certain percentage of stock from the main inventory system and import that each day into the Orderpoint system.
The third possible configuration is for full seamless integration with existing inventory management systems. Indeed, Orderpoint is compatible with a range of systems, including DB2, Oracle, Sybase, Informix and Microsoft SQL Server.
When it comes to Internet projects, maintenance, administration and reporting are important considerations. Even a Web site consisting of simple static pages can quickly become an administrative nightmare. Speedware has addressed these issues by providing easy-to-use Web-based administration tools.
One weakness of Orderpoint is that customers cannot integrate it electronically with their own purchasing systems; instead they have to type their orders into a Web browser.
However, on the plus side, the system provides comprehensive facilities for calculating tax and managing complex policies on shipping and post and packing charges.
One of the major issues with Web commerce is that many organisations find it difficult to predict the amount of business they will do using this method, so they are reluctant to commit vast sums of money to the project. This makes an off-the-shelf solution like Orderpoint an attractive proposition, because it will probably cost substantially less than a bespoke application.
The Orderpoint software costs between #20,000 and #30,000 depending on the version. It runs across a wide range of platforms, and interfaces to any Web server and browser, so it doesn?t necessarily need additional expensive hardware or software. It will run on Windows NT, AIX, HP-UX and Solaris, so if an Orderpoint application turns out to be much more successful than anticipated, it can be scaled up to large Unix multiprocessor systems.
Any organisation considering business-to-business commerce on the Net will be concerned about security. In this respect, Orderpoint supports SHTTP and SSL technologies. Furthermore, customer records are password-protected so there is some assurance that orders are genuine.
Speedware also has Autobahn, which is a RAD (rapid application development) technology for developing Internet server applications. In fact, Orderpoint was developed using Autobahn, and those businesses for which the software doesn?t exactly fit the bill can have bespoke solutions developed in the same way.
Prior to the release of Orderpoint, Speedware and its resellers were involved in developing business-to-business commerce applications in Autobahn. These are currently used by companies like Hewlett Packard, Olympus Cameras, and computer equipment distributors Actebis, Maxdata and PC Service Source.
Web commerce: how big is the opportunity?
Most research firms agree that Internet commerce ? particularly business-to-business commerce ? is now growing very rapidly. Indeed, a recent IDC study based on a large number of interviews with users in 17 countries, predicts that the value of transactions conducted over the Internet will grow almost a hundredfold over the next five years ? from $2.6bn in 1996 to $220bn.
Approaching the problem from the other end, Forrester has been researching the Internet commerce plans of major companies. It predicts that the value of goods and services traded between companies over the Internet will increase fortyfold, from $8bn in 1997 to $327bn by the year 2002.
Both IDC and Forrester agree that the rapidly growing volume of trade conducted over the Internet will take activity away from other channels, such as mail-order catalogues and telephone sales.
What?s more, the companies Forrester talked to expect the Internet to become their most effective revenue-raising channel over the next three years, pushing the phone and fax into second place in business-to-business use.
Forrester expects manufacturing companies making things such as aircraft parts and electronic components to be fastest off the mark in exploiting the commercial possibilities of the Internet. Wholesalers, distributors and other sorts of agents and middlemen will also need to quickly get up to speed on doing business the Internet way or risk losing out to more fleet-footed competitors.
Forrester believes the picture will be rather different for most service industries. Companies will take advantage of the Internet to promote their services and dole out information to potential business customers, but the deals themselves will still tend to be done off-line.
Case study ? Mail Marketing
The Mail Marketing Group (MMG) is one of the country?s largest direct marketing and communications specialists. It employs over 500 people in marketing (including direct mail), shipping over six million items of mail a week. Other activities include telemarketing, list brokering, consultancy and response handling.
Not surprisingly, MMG?s strategy has had to take the Internet into account. ?In the past couple of years businesses have come to see the Net either as a threat or as an opportunity. We?re treating it as an opportunity, both for conducting Web commerce and for integrating the Web and email into existing marketing strategies,? explains Doug Roberts, accounts manager at the company?s electronic business solutions division.
MMG used Orderpoint to set up a web commerce site for the Matthew Project. The Matthew is a full-size replica of the ship that carried John Cabot from Bristol across the Atlantic to Newfoundland in the 15th century. ?We were approached by the project to put up an online ship for souvenir gifts and other memorabilia,? says Roberts. ?Speedware?s merchant software provides a very cost-effective method of entry into Web commerce ? something that?s especially important when you?re going into an unknown market. It?s a much lower risk than a bespoke application.?
Although Orderpoint is primarily aimed at business-to-business transactions, MMG?s Matthew web site takes customer payment ? in the form of credit-card transactions ? over the Internet. ?We?ve been working with Hewlett Packard?s research labs on encryption and security on the Internet, including the taking of encrypted details,? says Roberts. ?We then take the database records and wrap them up using PGP [pretty good privacy] before passing them on for authorisation.?
Authorisation takes place online, but at the moment it isn?t live ? it happens after the customer has concluded the transaction. Roberts says the company plans to integrate live online authorisation in the next two months.
Orderpoint?s ease of implementation impressed MMG. ?It would probably take only about a week to get a store up and running with a significant number of products, provided you have your graphics ready,? says Roberts. ?You can rapidly place products online, and it handles all tax and shipping calculations.?
He adds: ?Once Orderpoint is up and running, maintaining it is easy. The developers are very happy with it ? it?s all controllable through a Web interface, so there?s no nasty scripting or programming to do.?
MMG sales and marketing director Ian Hughes is equally enthusiastic about the product. ?Orderpoint was phenomenally quick and easy to implement,? he says. ?Now that we?re using it, our time to market has been cut significantly. In our business we can get a phone call at 4pm on a Friday from someone who needs a catalogue up by Monday, so we wanted a product that could fulfil that criteria. Speedware certainly lives up to its name.?
Contact: Speedware on 0171 828 1897 or at www.speedware.com
Verdict: Orderpoint can provide a fast route to Internet commerce without an excessive financial outlay. Further strengths are its scalability, as well as its capacity to integrate with existing systems.
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