Reinventing the technology behind B2B e-commerce. By Simon Niesler

When it comes to e-commerce, technology can be characterised fairly as a double-edged sword. It generates many of the obstacles to full adoption but at the same time, can provide ways to overcome them.

The good news is that as buyers have become more sophisticated and e-commerce more mature, technology has evolved to keep pace. B2B companies now have access to a greater range of enablement solutions than ever before, providing the opportunity to build engagement platforms that can deliver true differentiation. Although wading through the options and building a technology approach that works is still far from simple, there are a few key technologies can help address many of the traditional barriers to e-commerce success and take B2B online engagement to the next level of sophistication.

Integration to enrich experiences
Connecting disparate systems has been a historic challenge that both technology vendors and businesses have been working to overcome for decades. Systems developed by various vendors and implemented by companies to address unique needs across the organisation simply were not designed to work easily together. For e-commerce initiatives, this is a major barrier to success. Tight integration with back office systems that are used to track and manage products is essential to getting accurate inventory availability information at the point of order entry and ultimately, to delivering the level of service customers expect. Connection to systems like CRM or even support databases is critical to delivering personalised, meaningful experiences.

While integration will remain an issue to contend with for the foreseeable future, solving the problem is getting easier, as the technology available to address it has experienced a significant period of acceleration. Built using an open architecture approach that relies on industry-standards like XML, rather than vendorbased standards, these more mature integration solutions provide a flexible, lightweight framework for quickly and easily connecting disparate systems without making them codependent. Systems can be made compatible, new technologies can be introduced, and existing software can be upgraded or even fail without taking down other applications.

In the context of e-commerce, integration technology can dramatically simplify the process of building those critical links between front-end online vehicles and back-end systems, connecting information like real-time inventory availability and up-to-date order status with e-commerce platforms. Building the type of end-to-end experience that an integrated solution makes possible is essential to maximising the potential of omnichannel e-commerce.

Analytics: the promise and the reality
One of the huge promises of e-commerce initiatives is the treasure trove of information they can provide about customers. Businesses have an opportunity to understand wholesales groups of buyers and also potential buyers in ways that were previously not possible. At present, most B2B e-commerce platforms are ‘dumb’, one-way tools that are unable to take advantage of the digital intelligence that its online audience can provide. Collecting data about the people who interact with online vehicles is fairly straightforward.

Putting that information to work is much tougher; it’s here where evolving analytics technology can make a tangible difference. From analysing the behavior of visitors and dynamically adjusting content based on usage to delivering a clear view of how a site is performing over time, analytics technologies hold the key to continually honing online engagement platforms and optimising their value. And unlike complex business intelligence tools from the days of old, these modern solutions are designed with nontechnical, end-users in mind.

What next for Big Data?
Closely related to analytics is ‘Big Data’, which is relevant for companies whose engagement platforms generate extremely large volumes of data or those who want to analyse large data sets for targeting purposes. Options for data – more data than businesses have ever had access to before – are plentiful and tempting, and big data technology came into existence to make that information both manageable and valuable. Although usually the domain of more mature e-commerce organisations, Big Data technology can hold the key to expanding reach, opening up new revenue channels, and turbo-charging online engagement initiatives.

Getting the basics and the basis right: cloud deployment
Cloud deployment of a wide variety of core business systems appears to finally be crossing the chasm to become standard practice for companies of all shapes and sizes. The ability to lower total cost of ownership for business systems and also simplify IT infrastructures, combined with advancements in security technology, have made the business case for cloud compelling. For e-commerce solutions, Cloud deployment can help address some of the resources issues that companies face by giving responsibility for infrastructure management to a technology partner. It can also accelerate initial deployment, help keep costs down, and make it much simpler to keep technology up-to-date, as upgrades are often included as part of subscription pricing.

Pulling it together – a platform for the future
As the buying behavior of B2B customers continues its path toward consumerisation, businesses are finding it hard to ignore the call of omni-channel customer engagement. However, taking advantage of the e-commerce opportunity will require more than simply revamping dated storefronts and overhauling shoppingcart only sites. Only by building rich, meaningful, and integrated customer experiences can B2B organisations make e-commerce live up to its true potential. Certainly, technology has evolved to address many of the traditional barriers to success; however, shifts in policy and mindset will also be required if this new channel is to be fully embraced. B2B companies that are able to do so quickly have an opportunity to get one step ahead of the competition, while opening up new avenues for revenue generation, increasing customer loyalty, and building a platform for the future. v

Simon Niesler is general manager, Western Europe, Infor. Infor develops business cloud software for Enterprise and SMB companies globally. With 17,000 employees and over 68,000 customers in more than 170 countries, Infor software is designed for progress.