from the front line: E-Commerce Expertise

Whether you are considering taking the plunge into e-commerce or you need a second ‘kick start’ to improve your company’s current e-commerce program, it might bid you well to check out the services of Solutions Consulting Group (

This Jackson Heights, N.Y.-based organization, has grouped its services into three broad categories: management education, consulting and Web presence development. SOLCON specializes in both electronic commerce and in the reengineering of the supply chain management process.

As is the case in so many enterprises, the ‘soul’ of the company is usually modeled after the founder or CEO. In the case of SOLCON, the soul is founder and president Brian Caffrey, a purchasing and supply management professional for more than 20 years who currently serves as VP on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Purchasing Management (NAPM) in New York. Brian also maintains an informative Internet site ( that provides purchasing-related resource information.

The management education portion of SOLCON’s business advocates an in-house approach. In-house e-commerce education usually affords substantial cost savings, and the prices quoted by Brian make it very attractive to consider this alternative to airline tickets, hotel rooms, meals, seminar registration fees, etc. The titles of some of SOLCON’s ‘in-house’ offerings speak for themselves:

  • Purchasing in the Information Age
  • Purchasing Professionals Internet Tool Kit
  • Using Information Technology in Purchasing
  • World Wide Web as a Strategic Sourcing Tool

Regarding the advantages of tailored education, Caffrey notes, "The diversity of the audience – their knowledge levels, organizational roles and educational needs – presents a major challenge in designing effective public seminar content. It is not at all unusual to receive mixed feedback from the same session indicating content was ‘too basic’ for some and ‘too advanced’ for others.

"By contrast, for in-house programs we work closely with the company to identify the needs of the attendees beforehand. In this way we can tailor program content and not wind up, for instance, introducing strategies that may be contrary to the direction in which the company is moving," he says

The consulting portion of SOLCON includes such services as benchmarking, market basket studies, purchasing software selection guidance and office product buying advisory services. "As purchasing/IT professionals, it is our job to remain abreast of changing technologies – to know what is available today, as well as what will be available in the future. Unencumbered by internal politics, self-interests, hierarchical pressure or product/service bias, we can bring a fresh viewpoint to the client’s situation."

With the current shortage of IT personnel across the country, this service should appeal to those who do not have the where-with-all to select the right piece of hardware or software for their organization.

SOLCON’s third area of expertise is Web presence development. I know from personal experience that the way most employees learn how to use the Web is by trial and error, or ‘surfing.’ SOLCON recognizes this fact and has developed a structured approach to bringing the power of the Internet to the purchasing department.

Caffrey elaborates on this service. "This is an area in which we are uniquely qualified to help companies rationalize their approach to using the Internet in purchasing and significantly shorten their ROI timeline.

"[A situation review is first provided.] According to a survey published in the June 18, 1998 edition of Purchasing Magazine, only 13 percent of companies offer Internet training to their employees, yet an overwhelming majority of respondents – 88 percent – are either using, or expect to use, the Internet for business purposes within the year. This means that, without guidance, entire series of local, ad hoc solutions are being developed that may not fit as well as they could into the organization’s overall business processes.

"Moreover, as these ad hoc solutions are extended beyond the enterprise, the supplier base could well find itself in the position of having to support myriad ways of doing business electronically. This adds to supplier costs, which will ultimately be passed back to buyers as higher prices for the goods and services they procure," Caffrey explains.

Bob Lewis is VP of IT at the FoodService Purchasing Cooperative Inc. (Louisville, Ky.). He can be reached at