Special Section: Electronic Commerce Architectures: Chains, Networks, and Communities

Paula M.C. Swatman, Guest Editor
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 2, Number 1, Fall 1997, pp. 3.

Abstract: For the second time, the International Journal of Electronic Commerce has reserved a Special Section for papers whose first versions were presented at the international conference on electronic commerce held in Bled, Slovenia, each June. This conference is a major venue for researchers in all aspects of electronic commerce and, in 1996, the Ninth International Conference focused on “Electronic Commerce for Trade Efficiency and Effectiveness.”

The three papers in this special section all relate to the theme of trade efficiency and effectiveness_but in very different ways. The unique contribution of electronic commerce is its ability to link formerly disparate organizations into an effectively seamless whole, although the architectures of the various “species” of systems that make up electronic commerce vary widely in their topology. This Special Section contrasts three kinds of electronic commerce architectures: The first deals with the grocery supply chain, the second with the healthcare system (from the points of view of both the supply chain itself and the network of organizations that participate in that supply chain), while the third investigates rural virtual communities (sometimes known as “regional community networks”). All three groups of authors, however, are looking at ways of reengineering interorganizational relationships to provide greater efficiency and effectiveness.

The grocery industry worldwide is constantly seeking new ways to minimize costs by reducing inventory and speeding up the ordering process. Electronic data interchange (EDI) has been used in many countries as a means of improving the ordering process for retailers, but there is conflicting evidence concerning the potential and actual benefits that accrue from such use. Some organizations see EDI as providing a critical strategic advantage, while others have ceased to use EDI, claiming that it offers few, if any, benefits. The first paper, by Theodore H. Clark and Ho Geun Lee, both from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, explains this apparent contradiction. Their study suggests that, while firms implementing both EDI and process innovation can significantly improve the ordering process, those that implement EDI without changing their existing policies and processes gain only minimal benefits.

Clark and Lee use a mixture of case-study-based qualitative research and statistical analysis of quantitative data to provide more consistent understanding of causal processes. This study of four leading adopters of EDI-based continuous replenishment, together with a survey of major retailers, provides evidence that those retailers implementing EDI alone only marginally improved their ordering processes. Those that implemented continuous replenishment processes (CRP), however, which require reengineering of the entire ordering process both internally and across the value chain, derived significant benefits. Many retailers are still unsure of the benefits CRP can offer. This paper’s statistical analysis of the relationship between CRP and improved performance for retail warehouse inventory turns and stockouts therefore offers the crucial empirical backing that has so far been lacking in this area.

EDI tends to be seen as an “old-fashioned” technology, with little to offer value chains or supply chains other than the standardized exchange of messages. Such a view, however, ignores the fact that the majority of such chains still have difficulty in getting critical products to the end user on time, on a regular basis. How, then, can we reengineer value chains so that entire industries can operate efficiently (and effectively) to the greater benefit of all parties? The second paper, by Stefan Klein from the Westfäelische Wilhelms Universität in Münster, Germany, and Heike Schad from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, provides a framework that combines technical and social aspects of reengineering (at the organizational, interorganizational, and business-network levels). This framework explains the stages required, and the methods used, to optimize EDI-based supply chain operations.Using the healthcare industry (and, in particular, a supply chain that enables the production, distribution, and use of medical diagnostic reagents) as an example, Klein and Schad explore the problems, approaches, and solutions to the technical and organizational issues involved in supply chain reengineering. The framework in this paper is unusually rich_based on both a solid literature foundation and a highly detailed exploration of the stages required to analyze the steps involved in supply chain improvement. The final version of the framework could be applied to any supply or value chain without amendment.

As the concept of “user pays” takes increasing hold in countries around the world, one group is suffering more and gaining less than any other. The rural sector in almost all countries has been affected by government policies that focus on financial justification (and thus lead to tactically oriented projects) at the expense of curiosity-driven research (which had the potential to lead to strategic gains for farmers). The final paper in this Special Section, by David Wilde and Paul Swatman of Swinburne University’s Centre for Information Systems Research, explores the opportunities provided by electronic virtual communities to offset some of these problems. The paper focuses on the Australian experience, since Australia’s huge size, small population, and extreme weather make the problems of the rural community particularly pressing.Wilde and Swatman base their analysis on a series of surveys of rural expert systems that have provided evidence of a change in government policy_and of the general lack of interest in computing exhibited by farmers in Australia (particularly in terms of computer use for strategic purposes)_and an analysis of WWW services available and their usage (which is lower than one might hope). These authors suggest a strategy for effective telecommunications-based information structures, built around virtual communities, which caters to farmers’ practical and social needs. The paper offers a broader perspective than is usually found in studies on rural computing, which frequently ignore the sociological aspects of computer uptake by the rural sector.

PAULA M.C. SWATMAN is Associate Professor of Information Systems in the Department of Information Systems at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Her research interests include electronic commerce, interorganizational information systems, and business reengineering. She is Director of the Electronic Commerce Research Group within the department, where she is also currently Acting Head, as well as a foundation Director of the inter-university electronic commerce research group CollECTeR. She is presently continuing research into the nature and genesis of electronic commerce, EDI evaluation, EC education, and Efficient Consumer Response. From January 1998, Dr. Swatman will be Professor of Information Technology and Dean of the School of Information Technology at Bond University on Queensland’s Gold Coast. She received her B.Ec. from LaTrobe University in Melbourne and her P.G.Dip. Bus. (BusSys) and Ph.D. from Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia.