Introduction to the Special Section: Electronic Intermediaries and Networks in Business-to-Business Electronic Commerce

Theodore H.K. Clark and Robert J. Kauffman, Guest Editors
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 4, Number 4, Summer 2000, pp. 5.

Abstract: Business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce has become a focal point of interest for practitioners, investors, and academics. One reason for this is the realization that many of the most financially promising e-commerce applications are to be found in the business-to-business environment. In this context, the role of channel intermediaries and value-added networks is an increasingly important area of focus. This special section of the International Journal of Electronic Commerce on B2B e-commerce intermediaries and networks evolved from papers that were initially presented in the “Internet and Digital Economy Track” of the Thirty-second Annual Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences (HICSS-32), held in January 1999. Three articles were selected that related to this theme, and each of them was extensively revised and improved by its authors, based on comments by the reviewers and the editors of the special section, during a nine-month review process. The resulting articles are focused on the challenges and opportunities associated with new forms of channel intermediaries and networks that enable new business process and interorganizational relationships to evolve using Internet and value-added networks. They represent research perspectives that span the globe.

Numerous readily observed organizational and structural changes in market activities in many industries have resulted from the technological innovations associated with e-commerce. Alina M. Chircu and Robert J. Kauffman, in the first article of this special section, present a new conceptual framework for understanding how information technology innovations can enable new channel intermediaries and new forms of commerce to develop within existing channels. Their intermediation-disintermediation-reintermediation (IDR) framework is a useful conceptual model for explaining complex changes in channel structure that add up to define a new market structure and industry organization. The framework also suggests a range of appropriate competitive strategies that can be applied with B2B e-commerce technologies and software applications. Using the travel industry as a basis for illustration, the authors analyze approaches that existing intermediaries can use to reduce the risks from disintermediation as they develop new strategies, enabled by the new technologies, to reintermediate their channel relationships and revamp existing business processes.

Significant transformations are also occurring in supply-chain management (SCM), according to the authors of the second and third papers in this special section. The first of these two articles, by Robert Johnston and Horace Mak, examines the potential for new forms of Internet-enabled SCM systems to overcome barriers to the adoption of improved processes and technologies. As firms shift their channel transactions from high-cost proprietary networks to Internet platforms, the benefits of traditional Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) applications can be realized by a firm’s entire network of trading partners. Integration of traditional interorganizational networks and the Internet-based alternative solutions that are now available to smaller, less-sophisticated trading partners can provide significantly greater benefits than either traditional or Internet-based SCM applications can deliver alone. The potential for achieving performance improvements in this way is illustrated by a case study of the implementation by Coles Myer Ltd. of a network that combines Internet-based intermediation with the services of a traditional value-added EDI network provider.

Judith Gebauer and Peter Buxmann showcase the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s use of Internet-based technology for procurement in supply-chain management, introducing a conceptual model to assess the value provided by interorganizational systems from the perspective of both initiators and participants. As the authors argue, senior managers widely recognize that interorganizational systems are among the most important opportunities for technological innovation in e-commerce applications to create value and strategic advantage for the firms that deploy them. However, most senior managers still believe that these systems, despite their potential, pose investment valuation problems that require many decisions to be made on the basis of “gut feeling.” Indeed, it is difficult to quantify the benefits of these systems and measure the associated risks. The study of LLNL’s adoption of technology for e-procurement examines a new framework for evaluating mutual benefits of adoption and usage for initiators and participants, and illustrates its application.

These three articles comprise a useful collection of frameworks and case examples for firms and researchers seeking to better understand the opportunities for e-commerce intermediaries and networks to transform existing channels, processes, and strategies. As the importance of B2B e-commerce increases, there will be a growing need for solid research on these business opportunities and relationships. We encourage authors to submit work to the International Journal of Electronic Commerce that will take this discussion to the next level.

THEODORE H.K. Clark ( is an assistant professor of information and systems management at the School of Business and Management, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. His doctorate is from Harvard University, where he contributed to the Harvard Business School’s extensive collection of case studies, and he previously worked at McKinsey and Co. and IBM. His research interests include e-commerce, interorganizational information systems, and telecommunications management, and he has published articles in Information Systems Research, Information Technology and Management, Journal of Management Information Systems, and Journal of Production and Operations Management. With J. Christopher Westland, he coauthored Global Electronic Commerce (MIT Press).

ROBERT J. KAUFFMAN ( is an associate professor of information and decision sciences at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota. His research interests center on IT strategy in financial services, the economics of IS and e-commerce, and IT investment strategy and valuation. He has degrees from Carnegie, Cornell, and the University of Colorado at Boulder, and has held faculty positions at New York University and the University of Rochester. He chaired the annual Workshop on Information Systems and Economics in 1991 and 1997, and he and two colleagues were recognized with a Best Paper Award at the 1999 Workshop on Information Technology and Systems (WITS). His articles have appeared in Information Systems Research, Communications of the ACM, Journal of Management Information Systems, MIS Quarterly, Decision Sciences, Electronic Markets, IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, and elsewhere.