More on Business and E-Commerce



Business to business transactions covers a variety of situations. They vary from the regular repeat transactions.  These transactions conform to differing trade cycles and are applicable to different e-Commerce solutions:

Ø       Electronic market

Ø       Electronic data interchange

Ø       Inter-organizational e-Commerce



            Business organizations are constantly buying and selling goods and services. Shop buy product in bulk from their suppliers and selling goods in small quantities to their customers. Manufactures buy raw materials or components from their suppliers, assemble them into new products and sell them, in turn to their customers.




The trade cycle for inter-organizational transactions is generally a credit trade cycle.


Ø     Pre-Sales:

Before trading starts, the two organizations need to make contact (search) and agree trading terms (negotiate). The customer organization may go out to tender or simply contact a firm it knows. The supplying firm may want to run credit checks on the customer. Both organizations will need to agree the price of goods, conditions of delivery and terms of payment.


Ø     Execution:

Execution consists of requesting the goods (order) and then collecting or receiving them (delivery). For most supplies, certainly those of significant value or purchased on a regular basis, firms will have formal purchasing procedures- orders originate from a purchasing department and often from a purchasing or stock replenishment computer application. Goods come with a delivery note that is cross checked, manually or electronically, with the original purchase order to complete execution stage.

Ø      Settlement:

The supplier of the goods has to be paid and with inter-organizational transaction this usually takes place after delivery. The supplier requests payment, say at the end of month, (invoice) and the customer, at some stage, settles the account (payment).

Ø     After-Sales:

In any transaction there can be problems, damaged or faulty goods, and these issues are sorted out after phase. For items such as machinery there can be on-going process of warrantee or maintenance (after sales).




            Each stage of the inter-organizational trade cycle is documented and both the customer and the supplier have systems to trace the progress of the transaction. The customer will check for delivery of the goods and will not want to pay before order entry system with stock control or production control or production control and certainly needs to check payment against the invoices that are issued.





The type of transaction that takes place and how it is executed depends on the size of the business involved, the nature of the business and the norms of the particular trade sector. This variety of transactions can be typified by three classifications:


Ø       Discrete transactions of commodity items.

Ø       Repeat transactions for commodity items.

Ø       Discrete transaction of non commodity items.

These different transactions may be done electronically and can be mapped onto the three e-Commerce technologies.

Ø      Electronic market:

Electronic market provides an efficient search mechanism to compare commodity product offerings and find a suitable supplier. E.g. - airline booking system.

Ø      Electronic Data Interchange (EDI):

EDI comes into its own once the supplier has been located and terms of trade arranged. It provides for the automation of regular repeat orders, and other standardized exchange, on a weekly, daily, or even hourly basis. e.g. - vehicle assembly, lab reports, and university results.

Ø      Internet Commerce:

In addition to the large and/ or regular purchases, organizations will be making once off, consumer style purchase. e.g. - stationary purchase.




Electronic markets are used for passenger ticket reservations and in various financial and commodity markets. These markets give the customer (or the customer’s intermediary) easy access to comparative data on price and other attributes, of the goods or services on offer. Access to this information is advantageous for the consumer but making the information available is not necessarily beneficial to the supplier.




For a market to work effectively there are three conditions

o        There are as many buyers as sellers and none of these buyers and sellers represent a significant fraction of total demand or supply.

o        The goods or services to be transacted is homogeneous or standardized, that is, does not have idiosyncratic or differentiated features across distinct units.

o        Buyers and sellers are well informed about the quantity and characteristic of the goods as well as the transaction price.


The development of modern industrial, and post-industrial, economy challenges the simple concepts of markets. The market is no longer local, many goods and services have become more complex (and hence less homogeneous), large organizations operate in the market with the power to distort market mechanism and, as a consequence of all these factors, it becomes harder to be “be well informed about the quality and characteristics of the goods as well as the transaction price.”




It is an attempt to use information and communication technologies to provide geographically dispersed traders with the information necessary for the fair operation of the market. The electronic market can bring together product, price and service information from many or most suppliers or a particular class of goods or in a specific trade sector. An electronic market defined as:

            “An inter-organizational information system that allows participating buyers, and sellers to exchange information about price and product offerings.”

The particular strength of an electronic market is that it facilitates the search phase of the trade cycle. It is about finding the best buy (on whatever criteria the customer may wish to apply). Having found an appropriate offerings the electronic market will then, normally, include facilities for the execution and settlement of the transaction.





Electronic markets are widely applicable in airline booking systems. Electronic Markets are also used in the financial and commodity markets and again the dealing is done via intermediaries, to buy stocks and shares a member of the public uses the services of a stock broker. The use of electronic markets has served customer well. With the assistance of a good travel agent the airline customer can be informed of all the fights available for an intended journey and then select, on the basis of price, convenience, loyalty scheme, etc. the flights that they wish to book.




The effect of an electronic market in a commodity market is the more efficient distribution of information which decreases the profit possibility for sellers. By the introduction of an electronic market search costs can be lowered. Buyers face lower search costs, it will be more difficult for sellers to maintain high price levels.

The sellers that are most competitive may do well, the electronic market makes available information on their product and the advantage of that offering should be apparent. Less competitive suppliers are likely to forced into price reductions and the competitive effect may force all supplier to cut prices, possibly below the level at which it is possible to make a profit (as is the case on some air transport routes).





Electronic data interchange is used by organization for transactions that occur on a regular basis to a pre-determined format. EDI is most commonly applied in the execution and settlement phases of the trade cycle. In execution of a simple trade exchange, the customer’s order can be sent by EDI and the delivery notification from the supplier can also be electronic. For settlement the supplier can use EDI to send the invoice and the customer can finish the cycle with an electronic funds transfer via the bank and an EDI payment notification to the supplier.

Finding an appropriate trading partner and negotiating conditions of trade is likely to be undertaken by a member of staff in the buying department. EDI could be used for after-sale transactions but only if they were in a standardized format and frequent enough to justify the system costs.

E.g. in UK National Health Service dentists keep dental records on a computer system and treatment details are sent, by EDI, t the DENTAL PRACITCE BOARD.

British Telecom for its bills from the gas, electricity, and heating oil utilities. In 1996 it started a program of switching these invoices to EDI.


EDI definition:


“The transfer of structured data, by agreed message standards, from one computer system to another, by electronic means”

Structured data: EDI transactions are composed of codes, values and short pieces of text, each element with a strictly defined purpose. For example, an order has codes for the customer and product and values such as quantity ordered.

            Agreed Message Standards:       the EDI transactions has to have a standard format, the standard not just agreed between the trading partners but is a general standard agreed at national or international level.  Purchase order will be one of a number of agreed message standards.

            From one computer system to another: the EDI message sent is between two computer applications. There is no requirement for people to read the message or re-key it into a computer system. For example, the message is directly between the customer’s purchasing system and the supplier’s order processing system.

            By Electronic Means: usually this is by data communications but the physical transfer of magnetic tape or floppy disc would be within the definition of EDI. Often networks specifically designed for EDI will be used.

“the INTER-COMPANY COMPUTER-TO-COMPUTER communication of STANDARD BUSINESS TRANSACTIONS in a STANDARD FORMAT that permits the receiver to perform the intended transaction.”


The Benefits of EDI:


IT SHOULD SAVE CONSIDERABLE TIME ON the exchange of business transactions and has the potential for considerable saving in the costs. EDI can be simply used to replace paper transactions with electronic transactions- this is the normal route taken in the initial installation of EDI. Just-in-time (JIT) manufacture and quick response supply being prime example of where EDI is used as an enabling technology to gain completive advantage

Direct Advantage of EDI:


v      Shortened Ordering Time: paper order have to be printed, enveloped and sent out by the customer’s post room, passed through the postal service, received by the customer’s post room and input to the supplier’s order processing system. To achieve all this, reliably, in less than three days would be to do very well. EDI orders are sent straight into the network and the only delay is how often the supplier retrieves messages from the system. Order can be in the supplier’s system within a day, or within an hour.

v      Cost Cutting: the use of EDI can cut costs. These include the costs of stationery and postage but these will probably be fully matched by the costs of running the EDI service. The principle saving from the use of EDI is the potential to save staff costs. The obvious example is that if the orders are directly to the input to the system there is no need for an order entry clerk.

v      Elimination of Errors: keying any information into a computer system is a source of errors and keying paper orders into order processing system is no exception.

v      Fast Response: with paper order it would be several days before the customer was informed of any supply, such as the product is out of stock.

v      Accurate Invoicing: just like orders, invoices can be sent electronically. EDI invoices have similar advantages to EDI orders in saved time and avoided errors. They can be automatically matched against the original order and cleared for payment and cleared.

v      EDI payment: payment can also be made by EDI. The EDI payment system can also generate an EDI payment advice that can be electronically matched against the relevant invoices, again avoiding query and delay.


Indirect Advantage of EDI:


v      Reduced Stock Handling: the ability to order regularly and quickly reduces the amount of goods that need to be kept in a store room or warehouse at the shop or the factory. But quick response supply systems avoiding stockholding and goods being delivered only as they are needed. Reduced cost holding cuts the cost of warehousing.

v      Cash Flow: speeding up the trade cycle by getting invoices out quickly, and directly matched to the corresponding orders and deliveries, can and should speed up payments and hence improve cash flow.

v      Business Opportunities: there is a steady increase in the number of customers, particularly large, powerful customer that will only trade with suppliers that do business via EDI.

v      Customer Lock-in: an established EDI system should be of considerable advantage to both customer and supplier. Switching to a new supplier required that the electronic trading system and trading relationship be redeveloped, a problem to be avoided if a switch of supplier is not essential.


To gain these advantages EDI has to be seen as an investment- the costs is the set up of the EDI system (hardware, software, network) and the time required to establish agreements with trading partners. The saving only start when there is a significant volume of business transacted using EDI.




EDI: the Nuts and Bolts


EDI Technology:


            EDI is defined by its technology: the EDI standards, the EDI networks and the EDI software that interfaces these two elements and the business applications.

EDI standards:


            The essence of the EDI is the coding and structuring of the data into a common and generally accepted format- anything less is nothing more that a system of file-transfers.

            The need for EDI standards: EDI provides an electronic linkage between two trading partners. Business transaction are output from the sending computer system, transmitted or transported in electronic format and input into the second, receiving computer system. The computer systems that exchange data need a common format, without a common format the data is meaningless.

It is unlikely that each of these exchange would have its own format but it is perfectly possible that each customer would have developed its own standards (giving each supplier three separate standards to cope with). It is also possible that new exchange added to the system will have requirements not envisaged when the data formats were originally agreed; this would require a change to the existing standard or the introduction of an additional standard. EDI standards provide a common language for the interchange of standard transactions.



National and Sectorial Standards:


·        Evolution of EDI standards: the evolution of EDI standards can be seen as having three stages.

o       The first formats that might properly be called EDI were developed by organizations that had to process data from a large number of customer organizations. The data recipients set the standard and the customers conformed to it. These formats normally known as local standards. E.g. - BACS, LACES, World Meteorogical Office (WMO) System.

o       The second format involved several industry sector and/ or national standards bodies developed EDI standards to meet the needs of a specific user community. These formats normally known as national standards. E.g.- ODETTE, TRADACOMS, ANSIX12.

o       The requirements of international and cress sector trade meant that the sector and national standards were becoming an impediment to the further development of electronic trading. These formats normally known as international standards. E.g.-EDIFACT

·        Early EDI applications: BACS was and is a consortium of the major banks that provides an automated clearing service for the transfer of money between bank accounts. Many organizations that made a significant number of payments (including pay-roll) use this service. Users of the BACS system recorded the information they would have printed as cheques on a computer file in accordance with the format required by BACS. The data was then sent to BACS where the payments were processed without the delay, expenses and risk of paper documents and manual data input. LACES was used as freight clearance system at London Heathrow Airport from 1971 to 1981. WMO System is used on a world wide basis to exchange weather information, weather reports and weather forecasts.

·        Sector and National Standard:

o       ODETTE: it is basically used for vehicle assembly industry. It stands for Organization for Data Exchange by Tele-transmission in Europe. ODETTE was predated by VGA, a standard developed, and still used, by the German Motor Industry.

o       TRADACOMS: it developed by the ANA (Article Numbering Association) in 1982. It evolved to become predominate UK EDI standard with widespread application in the retail and catering trades. Other European countries also developed their own standards for retail/ general trade; examples of such standards are SEADAS in Germany and GENCOD in France.

o       ANSI X12: EDI in North America developed with differing standards in the various business sectors. For example USC for the grocery industry and ORDERNET for the pharmaceutical trade. Due to lots of sector it troubling, the problem was taken up by American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and X12 was developed as a national standard with the aim of replacing the various sector standards.

·        The international EDI Standard: problem of cross sector trade there is a desire to use EDI for international trade. This (sensibly) requires a common format for the exchange of the standard business forms (order, invoice, etc.) between organizations in differing countries. International trade also requires a great deal of additional documentation for shipping, customs authorities, international credit arrangements, etc. – all of this is electronic and obviously a common format is very desirable.  EDIFACT is the United Nations Standard of Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport. This standard was born, in the mid-1980 by United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) committee and is supported by the Commission of the European Union.

The EDIFACT standard


            Like all other EDI standards, is about the exchange of (electronic) documents- for EDIFACT each document type is referred to as a message. Sectors using EDIFACTS includes: transport, customs, finance, construction, statistics, insurance, tourism, healthcare, social administration, public administration, public procurement.

For transmission purpose EDIFACT messages are sent in an electronic envelope known as an interchange. Within that interchange there may well be a number of messages. Messages equate to the trade documents and order and invoice are prime example. The messages themselves are made up of a series of data segments. Data segments encode a single aspect of the trade document, for instance the order date or the buyers name and address. Data segments are in turn made up of tag and a number of data items. The tag identifies the data segment and the data elements give the codes and/ or values required in the document (message).


  • UNB Interchange Header

UNB + UNOA : 1 + 6464 : XX + 1141 : XX + BEN0273


Control agency                      UNOA

Version                                   2

Sender Code                        6464

Code Qualifier                       xx

Recipient Code                     1141

Code Qualifier                       xx

Control Reference                BEN0273

  • UNH Message header

UNH + 000001 + ORDERS : 2 : 911 : UN’        

Message Number                 000001

Message Type                      ORDERS      

Version                                   2

Release                                  911

Control Agency                      UN

  • BGM Beginning of Message

BGM + 220 + AC6464’

Message Name Code          220                 i.e. order

Document Number                AC6464         i.e. order number

  • DTM date/ time/ period

DTM + 4 : 20000305 : 102’

Qualifier                                  4                      i.e. order date

Date                                        20000305     

Format Qualifier                    102                 i.e. century date

  • NAD Name and address

NAD + BY + 6464326 : : 91’

NAD + SU + 1149646 : : 91’

Party Qualifier                        BY                   i.e. buyer

SU                   i.e. supplier

Address Code                       6464326


Code list agency                   91                    i.e. user defined

  • UNS Section Control

UNS + D’

Section Identification            D                     i.e. detail segment

  • LIN Line Item

LIN + 1 ++ PT-1073-R : VP’

LIN + 2 ++ PT-1073-S : VP’

Line item number                  1 and 2

Item number                           PT-1073-R and PT-1073-S

Item number type                   VP                   i.e. vendor part number

  • QTY Quantity

QTY + 21 : 1600’

QTY + 21 : 1200’

Quantity qualifier                   21                    i.e. ordered quantity

Quantity                                  1600 and 1200

  • UNT Message Trailer

UNT + 11 + 000001’

Control Count                        11                    i.e. eleven segments

Message Number                 000001

  • UNZ Interchange Trailer

UNZ + 1 +BEN0273

            Control Count                        1                      i.e. one message

            Control Reference                 BEN0273


Formatting Characters

            Data Element Separator                              +

            Component Data Element Separator         :

            Segment Terminator                        


This message can be decode as

            Order number AC6464, Order Date 15.03.2000, Customer Address Code 6464326, Supplier Address Code 1149646, for “executive elite” gift cases in red and silver

            Line 1 (red cases)     1600   PT-1073-R

            Line 2 (silver cases) 1200   PT-1073-S

Coding Standards:           

            Computer system has codes for customers, suppliers, products and so on. For EDI it is preferable to send the codes rather than the associated names, addresses and descriptions. The uses of codes cut down the size of the transmitted message and provided the codes are mutually agreed, they can be used to match the appropriate records in the receiving computer system.

  • EAN/ UPC Codes

For the grocery and general retail trade there are standard systems of coding. These are used for bar codes on merchandise and to identify address points within the participating organizations, they are also used on EDI messages. The two main systems are:

            EAN    European Article Number

            UPC    Universal Product Code (American)

The coding systems are administrated by the national Article Numbering Association (ANA). These organizations have also been closely involved in the development of EDI. The EAN and the UPC system are similar. The EAN is a 13 digit code with a two digit country code whereas the UPC is a 12 digit code with only a single digit for the country.

Code: ccmmmmmxxxxxc

            cc                    country (2 digit)

            mmmmm        manufacturer prefix number (5 digit)

            xxxxx               item reference

            C                     check digit


Check digit calculation for the product code uses a modulus 10 algorithm. This is calculated by multiplying alternative digits, of the code, by 1 and 3 respectively. The results of these multiplications are summed and the check digit is the difference between that sum and the ceiling value of sum.


Code: 500015700171

=5*1 + 0*3 + 0*1 + 0*3 + 1*1 + 5*3 + 7*1 + 0*3 + 0*1 + 1*3 + 7*1 + 1*3

=5 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 1 + 15 + 7 + 0 + 0 + 3 + 7 + 3


C = ceil (sum) – sum

C = ceil (41) – 41

C = 50 – 41

C = 9

EAN code = 5000157001719


  • Generic Products: EAN codes are appropriate for ordering branded products. They are not applicable where the requirement is for a generic product. Product coding in these circumstances is either agreed between customer and supplier or there is an agreement on an industry basis. The paper and board trade is one such industry where coding conversion have been agreed to specify grams/ sq. cm, direction of fiber, size of sheet, etc.

EDI Communications:


            The EDI standard specifies the syntax for the coding of the electronic document; it does not specify the method of transmission. That can be

            A magnetic tape or diskette that is posted or dispatched using a counter service

            A direct data communication link

            A value added data service (VADS), also known as a value added network (VAN)