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PricewaterhouseCoopers' E-Business Technology Forecast

"E-Business Platforms and Applications"

Until recently, many Internet sites were either partially or almost entirely custom-built, costing significant amounts of money and pricing some businesses out of the online marketplace. Now, software applications and tools vendors have made significant strides in enabling e-businesses to choose from a selection of best-of-breed applications coupled with custom development for a strong Web presence.

The "E-Business Platforms and Applications" section of PricewaterhouseCoopers' E-Business Technology Forecast discusses major software components of e-business and the products available in the marketplace. Included are such technologies as the:

1. Web commerce server - a specialized Web server that includes at least basic e-business functionality (ability to present merchandise, accept orders, and process payments);

2. "Shopping cart" - which holds a record of the selections a buyer is considering for purchase until the buyer is finished "browsing" and is ready to make a purchase;

3. E-Business catalog - a content management system for presenting customers with information about goods and services offered for sale, bid, or auction;

4. Configurator - a software tool that allows a customer to define a product that meets given needs and whose features and options can be combined to work together (e.g., networking and telecommunications equipment);

5. Personalization engine - a software package for tailoring a presentation to an individual customer or group of customers based on profile information, demographics, or prior transactions.

Highlighted Perspectives and Projections:

Through links to real-time inventory systems, customers will know immediately what items are in stock, which are on order, and how quickly items will arrive;

The focus of e-business application software will shift away from narrowly defined commerce platforms - the ones that just focus on creating feature-rich catalogs or ordering systems - toward a broader vision, including software and other application tools to better manage customer relationships and data;

As more potential participants access the Web, the use of negotiated pricing mechanisms will grow. The special-purpose technology available today to implement negotiated and auction pricing will be integrated into enterprise and specialty Web sites;

1. Tools that integrate video with call centers will be more widely used. Examples include the ability of a customer service representative to send personalized content to the customer's browser or take the customer on a "guided tour" through a sequence of Web pages, and eventually two-way video interaction with customer service representatives. However, until broadband technologies like cable modems and xDSL (digital subscriber line) are more widely deployed, the availability of these solutions will be limited;

2. Customer-facing e-business Web sites will increasingly include interactive communications with customers via a variety of mechanisms, including e-mail, voice, and video conferencing. In addition, call centers increasingly will use the Web as another communications facility. By providing customers with self-service access to more information on the Web, call center personnel can then handle the most pressing customer support issues in real time;

3. Vertical online communities will flourish. A vertical online community is defined as a value chain with multiple participants in the process. If a retailer in this vertical chain can't help a customer, it could pass a Web session to the product manufacturer for technical service.

4. XML (eXtensible Markup Language), a standard for a data description language that can be used to exchange data between different applications like Web servers and networks, will have a major impact on catalog vendors. Proprietary catalog systems will be dropped in favor of industry standards based on XML. XML tags data in such a way that it creates self-identifying data structures and helps companies with different e-business applications communicate with one another.

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