The American Supply Association's Center for Advancing Technology conducted its fifth electronic-commerce summit May 10 in Washington. The summit focused on manufacturer-to-distributor-to-contractor use and application of e-commerce.

The most interesting session was conducted by Carl Allison, a senior majoring in industrial distribution at Texas A&M University's School of Distribution Management. In one of his classes he participated in a project on e-commerce strategy and implementation methods for small-, large- and medium-sized distributors. Allison approached LCR-M Corp. (Baton Rouge, La.) to work with his group on the project; he had worked as a summer intern in LCR-M's Dallas office.

The group researched do-it-yourself implementations as well as Internet service providers. LCR-M's management helped the students understand its e-commerce objectives. This is an important step, Allison learned, as those companies they studied that did not lay out such objectives did not do well with their Web sites.

For the DIY implementation, the students researched LCR-M's existing back-office systems and discovered that compatibility of hardware and software systems was a crucial issue. They also documented what additional training and personnel would be needed.

The outsourcing component to the project was not in the original scope of the project, but Allison said it would have been a disservice to LCR-M if the group did not provide that information. Allison cited the Center for Advancing Technology and its four productivity tools - EDI Express, Lynx DS, ASA ANSINET and Source ASA+ - as a viable solutions provider for LCR-M's Web development plan.

Anthony Lopresti of IMPAC Technology discussed the requirements of developing and operating a Web site. Lopresti said that, whether a wholesaler outsources its Web development to an Internet service provider or uses existing staff, understanding the nuts and bolts of putting together and maintaining a Web site is important. He explained the types of hardware and software involved, as well as their cost and complexity of use.

"Security software is where you really need to spend the money," Lopresti said. Prices can range from free for basic programs to $60,000 for more sophisticated programs.

Larry Mohr of F.W. Webb (Burlington, Mass.) and Kevin Hoyle of Shannon Systems gave a brief explanation of XML, or extensible markup language. Mohr said XML is what EDI will evolve into; it will be used in future automation programs where businesses use the Internet to exchange data into their workflow.

He emphasized, however, that distributors should begin EDI transactions now and not wait for XML technology.

Wholesalers marketing their Web sites to customers and suppliers should review all business functions first, said Jim Fuller of Coburn Supply in Beaumont, Texas. In order to market a site successfully, a Web marketing plan must become part of a firm's existing marketing, operation and financial planning process.

The next summit will be held in conjunction with the ASA 2000 Convention/NEX Show Oct. 4-7 in Chicago.