CHICAGO — Partner collaboration and technology integration are key in today’s complicated e-commerce ecosystem, keynote speaker Kevin Kail told delegates at this year’s 6th annual E-Commerce World conference.

The show, held in Chicago for the first time, attracted both VARs and executives from a host of industries including manufacturing, financial services and government. More than 100 speakers addressed topics like B2B legal initiatives, supply chain optimization and the transition from EDI to XML.

On the EDI/XML front, for example, Kail, who is president and founder of XML Solutions, discussed the evolution of “value-added networks.” These networks build on the benefits of the EDI trading platform, along with the use of XML technology in the area of B2B, to facilitate collaborative commerce for trading partners.

Kail said many industry players are moving away from EDI in a bid to solely embrace XML initiatives such as ebXML, UDDI and Rosettanet, a move he said would cost billions, considering the work that’s already been done in the EDI arena.

Instead, Kail urged companies to build on the expertise and knowledge already gained through the use of EDI (such as the countless vocabularies already defined, which categorize the process and transaction rules), and then combine that with the benefits of XML technology.

“Each industry has its own Webster’s dictionary for e-commerce (the words and meanings of e-business),” he said. “So imagine what happens if we re-invent that.”

The XML vocabulary is not mature like EDI, however, so in a bid to help partners transact in the B2B space, Kail outlined the concept of value-chain XML (VCML), which is essentially EDI in an XML form.

“It’s no longer a point-to-point e-commerce ecosystem. Now it’s a multi-point system that involves many players in real-time. Think of it as a party-line or AOL instant messaging.”

In addition to enhanced communication and convenience, he said the value-added network saves money. “Whereas a paper-based transaction costs between $100 to $175, and an EDI transaction costs $30 to $50, the value-added network transaction would cost between $2 to $3,” he said.

Others at the conference highlights were focused on managing partner relationships. Edward Hafner, chief technology officer of Foresight Corp., said the trick to a profitable trading environment is having the right partners at the table. One way to get them there is by tailoring specific technology to fit their needs. “You have to create a solution that will benefit the partners,” he said, indicating technology with a little added functionality unique to that partner goes a long way and secures their involvement in the supply chain.

Defined as Trading Relationship Management (TRM), which is the process of enabling dynamic interaction and business collaboration between electronic trading partners, he said the four-step process involves recruiting, engaging, certifying and trading.

“You have to convince your partners why they should come aboard,” he said. “The most important thing is to recruit them, identify who you need to talk to, and educate them on the benefits of partnering with you.”

Resellers in the manufacturing industry, in particular, need to be educated on the benefits of being involved in the supply chain. “That will eliminate a lot of channel conflict,” he added.

Indeed, the show aims to educate VARs on the benefits of installing and peddling e-commerce integration tools and solutions, as well as convincing them of the huge opportunity on return on investment.

Accpac International Inc., for example, is pitching its recently released e-commerce tool, Advantage Series version 5.0, which offers browser-based access to business information with support for multiple commercial databases.

Other vendors, including Network 1 Financial, is pitching at the show an end-to-end electronic payment transaction service for VARs, OEMs and multi-channel enterprises.

The e-commerce show continues until Friday.

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