BtoB

Collaboration cometh

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In a sign that b-to-b companies are emphasizing online collaboration—and shifting their focus beyond pure transactions—26% of b-to-b executives said in a recent study that they would add collaboration features to their private trading networks, or PTNs, within the next year to enhance their online activities.

The study, conducted by Jupiter Media Metrix Inc., found that the addition of collaborative applications to PTNs would outpace those of transaction-focused enhancements; only 20% of b-to-b executives indicated they would focus on procurement features.

Jupiter said the shift will offer companies the best short-term return on investment, allowing buyers and sellers to improve the quality and efficiency of their products and manufacturing before meeting longer-term goals for cost-effective b-to-b transactions.

"People have been stumbling around for awhile trying to find what would appeal to them most [on the Web] and it wasn’t transactions," said Tim Clark, a senior Jupiter analyst. Clark said collaboration, not transactions, represents the next generation of the Internet. "What the research is telling us is that collaboration is resonating. It’s not going to transform global business in the next 12 months, but will in the next five years."

Among some of the key findings in the Jupiter study:

• Within the next 12 months, 17% of b-to-b leaders plan to use PTNs to monitor suppliers’ inventory levels.

• Other information sharing applications cited by respondents included collaborative planning (15%) and product design (11%).

• Commodities buying (13%) and procurement management (13%) were the only transactional applications in the survey.

A separate study of 15,000 b-to-b companies in 27 countries, conducted by International Data Corp., the research arm of International Data Group, found that 50% of the respondents were doing things online other than buying and selling. "It’s what companies have to do if they want to" pursue transactions, said John Gantz, chief research officer at IDC.

While convinced about the value of online collaboration, b-to-b executives still express concerns about the security of their data in these environments. Clark said the bigger, more established companies would initially work with their most trusted partners to address security concerns, and as they grow more comfortable with collaboration will expand exchanges to include more companies. Other Internet players will have little choice but to follow suit on collaboration if they want to stay competitive, he said.

Gantz said there’s little point to pursuing online procurement if there isn’t a collaborative element in place beforehand. "It’s going to be a weak exchange if you don’t first have the other benefits," he said. M

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