Introduction to the Special Section: Agent-Based Approaches to B2B Electronic Commerce

M. Brian Blake and Maria Gini, Guest Editors
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 7, Number 1, Fall 2002, pp. 7.

Abstract: The notion of electronically transmitted messages representing such documents as purchase orders and assisting order enactment led to the development of the first business-to-business (B2B) systems more than 25 years ago. Historically, these message transfer systems included B2B protocol standards, such as Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), over media called value-added networks (VANs). These legacy B2B systems are known for their inflexibility, a limitation that current Internet-based technologies are predicted to alleviate. In fact, an emerging area of research is the exploration of techniques for effectively mediating B2B interactions, with the Internet serving as a medium.

A typical chain of events surrounding B2B transactions consists of the requisitioning of resources, a request for quotes from candidate businesses, vendor selection, order enactment and delivery, and relationship management among businesses. Several components of the B2B domain, such as strategic sourcing, electronic procurement, virtual enterprises, electronic marketplaces, workflow/supply-chain management, and supplier relationship management are relevant to these events when considering the use of the Internet. Currently, agent researchers are beginning to explore how the autonomy and intelligence of software agents can be used to alleviate the complexity in this B2B electronic commerce space. The three papers in this special section present research results in the area of virtual enterprises, automated cross-organizational supply-chain management, and service-based mediation environments with implications for electronic marketplaces.

In the first paper, “Agent Technologies for Virtual Enterprises in the One-of-a-Kind-Production Industry,” Jeroen W.J. Gijsen, Nicholas B. Szirbik, and Gerd Wagner present the use of agent-oriented techniques to support the modeling of virtual enterprises and their information systems. They introduce an important third-party model that incorporates the use of agents to support the collaboration of multiple vendors. In “A Multi-Agent Negotiation Testbed for Contracting Tasks with Temporal and Precedence Constraints,” John Collins, Wolfgang Ketter, and Maria Gini present a market architecture for multi-agents, where agents negotiate over multiple factors, including not only price, but task combinations and temporal factors. The agents use auctions to select the winning bids. A testbed is proposed as a tool for systematic experimentation of agents’ strategies.

In the third paper, “Agent-Based System Design for B2B Electronic Commerce,” Anthony Karageorgos, Simon Thompson, and Nikolay Mehandjiev introduce an approach whereby agents are used to support supply-chain management. The authors discuss the use of relational algebra to formalize the roles that individual stakeholders take in a cross-organizational supply-chain scenario. They extend this approach to the domain of automotive manufacturers.

Papers considered for publication in this special section were obtained from both an open call for papers and the two workshops on Agent-Based Approaches to B2B Electronic Commerce at the Fifth International Conference of Autonomous Agents (AGENTS2001) and the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence (ICAI2001). We appreciate the help of an excellent group of reviewers who greatly enhanced the quality of the manuscripts. These reviewers are Liliana Ardissono, Christoph Bussler, R. Scott Cost, Peyman Faratin, Shawndra Hill, Sylvain Giroux, Zakaria Maamar, Marcus Maloof, Mark Matthews, Bruce McLaren, Laskri Tayeb, and Amund Tveit.

M. BRIAN BLAKE ( is an assistant professor in the department of computer science at Georgetown University and a lead software system engineering consultant with The MITRE Corporation. He received his Ph.D. in information technology from George Mason University with an emphasis on systems and software engineering. His research interests encompass the domain where agent-oriented software engineering approaches can be used for the development and realization of information systems. Dr. Blake leads a research group that explores the use of agents for B2B commerce over the Internet. He is the founder and has served as program chairperson of a recent series of workshops and special sessions, focusing on the use of agents in B2B electronic commerce, at various international conferences, such as the Fifth International Conference of Autonomous Agents (AGENTS2001) and the Eighth National Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AAAI2002). Dr. Blake has authored more than 20 papers in journals and refereed conference proceedings in the general area of agents and information systems.

MARIA GINI ( is a professor in the department of computer science and engineering at the University of Minnesota. Before that she was a research associate at the Polytechnic of Milan, Italy, and a visiting research associate at Stanford University. Her research interests focus on the use of artificial intelligence to create autonomous entities, such as robots and intelligent software agents. Dr. Gini’s major contributions include negotiation strategies for agents, planning with incomplete information, and coordination of multiple robots. She has co-authored more than 100 technical papers and is on the editorial board of Autonomous Robots and Integrated Computer-Aided Engineering. She is the general chair for the First International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multi-Agent Systems, 2002, and for the Seventh International Conference on Intelligent Autonomous Systems, 2002.