Webforms Unite e-Business Trading Partners

Underlying the advanced technology required to implement e-business initiatives are the partnerships e-business serves to facilitate. With this in mind, Sterling Commerce Inc. (Columbus, Ohio) has introduced the latest version of COMMERCE:Webforms, a Web-based e-commerce solution designed to help large companies exchange critical business documents with their smaller business partners via the Internet.

COMMERCE:Webforms is a Web-based service -- accessible via the Internet -- through which electronic forms can be completed online and forwarded to the COMMERCE:Network mailboxes of EDI trading partners. Similar to its predecessors, the new Version 3.0 of COMMERCE:Webforms aims to help larger, more e-business oriented companies include smaller trading partners in the process of doing business online.

Among the most prominent features of COMMERCE:Webforms 3.0 are: document turnaround; functional acknowledgement processing; business logic presentation; the capability to be run on any Web browser; use of HTML code; e-mail oriented document management; e-mail notification of new documents; and hub-sponsored development.

According to Lori Conners, product manager of Internet solutions for Sterling Commerce, the two most prominent new features of Version 3.0 are document turnaround and functional acknowledgement turnaround.

Document turnaround automatically takes information from a purchase order and maps the data into an invoice, without the re-keying of information, according to Conners. A larger company, for example, would send an order to its supplier, who would in return send an invoice back to that larger company. "The goal is to get the smaller supplier companies up to speed with e-business initiatives," she says.

"Re-keying information typically leads to problems with accuracy," adds David Kishler, manager of industry relations for the Commerce Services Group of Sterling Commerce.

The functional acknowledgement feature included with Version 3.0 provides a delivery receipt to the EDI system of a COMMERCE:Webforms user from one of its trading partners. Previous versions of COMMERCE:Webforms did not contain this feature.

Regardless of version, COMMERCE:Webforms begins as a generic package offered by Sterling Commerce that is later customized to meet the needs of individual businesses and their suppliers, Conners says. The majority of the package is services-based and managed by Sterling Commerce. "We do all the hosting at Sterling Commerce," she says. "We create the host and manage the trading partner relationships."

Sterling Commerce refers to this as "community management," where a business manages the relationships between itself and its trading partners. "COMMERCE:Webforms helps a company's suppliers access the Web," Conners points out. "We work with businesses to take specifications and create individual, customized forms for that company's trading partners [or suppliers, for example]. That's why the development cost is there. Generic forms would not be as beneficial to a company's suppliers."

The suppliers -- or smaller trading partners in an e-business relationship -- need only a PC and a Web browser to conduct business using COMMERCE:Webforms. The interface is laid out like an e-mail system, although it is a separate application from the supplier's internal e-mail. This internal e-mail system is used to alert suppliers that a Web form is waiting for them. These suppliers would then access www.commercewebforms.com and enter their user ID and password to reach the pertinent information.

Another strength of the product is that smaller trading partners do not have to know anything about EDI to participate, according to Kishler. "Smaller companies may not understand EDI and may not care to."

Version 3.0 is scheduled to be available by early May of this year. Pricing for the product is broken down by Sponsor and User. Sponsor pricing refers to the cost to the Sterling Commerce customers for sponsoring their e-commerce trading community. Cost for the initial Webform is $15,000 and $5,000 for each additional Webform. Other costs include annual site renewal and monthly processing fees.

Costs for users -- those companies partnering with COMMERCE:Webforms customers -- are a $25 signup fee, a monthly processing fee and a customer service option.