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Realizing an Integrated Electronic Commerce Portal System

Conventional business transactions - i.e. transactions not supported by information technology (IT) - are conducted nowadays by media like paper, telephone or fax (Zwass, 1996; Zwass, 1999). IT-supported business transactions use media like electronic mail, EDI, WWW and other Internet services (Chesher and Kaura, 1998; Conelly, 1999). On an abstract level, partners in business transactions - either electronic or conventional - are supplier and customer. In special businesses, however, they can be called supplier and consumer, addressee and provider, or producer and supplier but also management and employee.

These roles - supplier and customer - can be taken by companies, administrations or private persons. If the role of the supplier as well as the role of the customer is taken by a company, the business transaction is called business-to-business (B2B). If the role of the customer is taken by a private person, the business transaction is called business-to-consumer (B2C). Analogously, the roles can be taken by an administration. In that case, the business transactions are called administration-to-consumer (A2C), administration-to-administration (A2A) or business-to-administration (B2A). Business transactions within a company - between management and employees, without external partners - are called business-to-employee (B2E).

In electronic commerce as well as electronic business, suppliers and customers communicate electronically by means of a data communications network (Adam and Yesha, 1995). The Internet with its protocols (TCP/IP, FTP, NNTP, SMTP, HTTP, etc.) and services (Usenet, e-mail, WWW, etc.) represents such a data communications network.

The common aim of electronic business and electronic commerce is the electronic support of business transactions or market transactions. This is realized either by supporting the supply chain (ordering, billing, payment) between different suppliers or by supporting marketing, sales, distribution and after-sales support of products or services (Schmid and Lindemann, 1998) for customers. Not only services like stock exchange news, insurances or weather prognosis etc. can be supported by electronic commerce, but also communal administration services and tax declaration.

While electronic commerce primarily supports private customers, electronic business, on the contrary, does not involve private customers but supports electronic business transactions between companies, administrations or between management and employees. In this context, an employee is not seen as a private customer.

Any kind of electronical business transaction conducted between two partners is supported by one or more different software systems. Each partner of the electronic business transaction uses individual and specific, simple or complex software systems to support his own business transactions., e.g. SAP B2B-Procurement, EDI/EDIFACT for B2B or various shop systems for shopping or auctioning, which are partially based on Internet client/server techniques. The set of specific software systems of all partners involved in an electronic commerce transaction form an electronic commerce system. To build such an electronic commerce system, these software systems can be integrated in a rather tight or more lose way. Thus, a shop system consisting of a web browser and a web server with heavyweight extensions is an electronic commerce / electronic business system, as are two connected EDI/WEB converters for commodity management systems.

In this context, an electronic commerce portal - i.e. an integration platform for different software systems like legacy, web, Internet or office systems - is also an electronic commerce / electronic business system. However, an electronic commerce portal which is used in an intranet supports only business-to-employee transactions (B2E). Communication between management and employees (e.g. agents of an insurance company), but also between different employees, is supported by providing information about the product portfolio, tariffs, customers and contacts within the electronic commerce portal and its subsystems. An additional feature for an intranet portal supporting business-to-employee transactions is the integration of the functionality of legacy systems. In contrast to internet portals, access to the services provided by the intranet portal is limited to a special user group (here: insurance agents).

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© 2000 Matthias Book, Volker Gruhn, Lothar Schöpe