While analysts say the e-commerce industry struggles to build any significant momentum, a U.S. golf organization is betting iCongo‘s B2B exchange portal can help it become more efficient.

The Montreal-based e-commerce software developer

announced Monday that it just entered into a partnership with Atlanta-based PGA Interactive. As the media and communications arm of the Professional Golfers Association of America, PGA Interactive is responsible for the delivery of PGA of America’s online services, says PGA Interactive vice-president of Internet operations Don Pettinato.

iCongo developed and will host and manage PGA Exchange, an online B2B private marketplace designed to act as the trade home for the not-for profit organization’s 27,000 professional members and 10,000 retail outlets, says iCongo’s CEO Irwin Kramer.

After hearing about how frustrating the existing retail and exchange systems were for both suppliers and customers, the association decided to move its suppliers’ catalogues, inventory information and order desks from the existing phone-based system onto the Web, Pettinato says.

“”To order product today a PGA professional, or someone on his staff, would dial the supplier’s 800 number,”” Pettinato says. “”They may or may not get connected, they probably will be put on hold for 15 to 20 minutes. That’s just one supplier. There are over 1,400 suppliers in the golf industry today. Imagine how frustrating that is.””

The new online exchange will rely on iCongo’s Dynamic Collaborative Enterprise Portal technology, which features marketing and communications tools as well as online ordering capabilities, says Kramer. They will also deploy iCongo’s integration tools to link participating suppliers’ existing catalog, inventory, ERP and EDI systems with PGA Exchange, he says.

“”The system can work in a completely seamless fashion between the supplier and buyer,”” he says.

This type of private online marketplace is one of the few e-commerce offsprings doing relatively well, says IDC Canada vice-president of telecommunications and Internet research Joe Greene. Although private exchanges are still far from a boom, there are more and more successful ones popping up on the Canadian businesscape. They are doing well in verticals like the automotive industry and have faired relatively well where the driving enterprise has strong relationships with its suppliers and can turn them into an exchange buy-in, he says.

“”The PGA will have to drive both suppliers and customers to buy into this in order to be successful,”” he says. “”That’s something public marketplaces are just not able to do. They haven’t been able to attract the variety of suppliers you’d need.””

The e-commerce market has been moving forward slowly though, he says, with private exchanges starting to build momentum. The reach and exposure to new markets is slowly luring suppliers online, he says.

PGA Interactive is planning to convince suppliers to buy into PGA Exchange in just that manner, Pettinato says. The company plans to capitalize on one of its parent companies, Turner Sports Interactive, being a division of AOL.

“”Our objective in the next couple of months is to figure out how to integrate our products with AOL’s 30 million subscribers so we can take advantage of the consumer side of that business,’ he says.

The highly fragmented nature of sporting organizations and their retail arm makes the industry an ideal candidate for the types of tools iCongo can offer, Kramer says. His company has also rolled out a similar of solution for the NHL, he adds, and manages their retail operations for all of North America.

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