Cliff Saran & David Bicknell
As news broke last week of the failure of sports fashion retailer Boo, the biggest European Internet casualty so far, the finger of blame moved to the consultancies and IT suppliers that helped build the site.
Boo spent nearly £100m of investment funds in trying to create one of the world's most advanced e-commerce sites. But the ambitious site was launched months late and last week ran out of money after investors pulled the plug.
Its technology platform was based on Sun E4500 servers hosted in the London Docklands. Macromedia Flash technology provided animation and an Oracle database was used to store three-dimensional pictures of its fashion goods.
One industry insider told Computer Weekly that with so much venture capital being poured into the very public Boo project, IT firms were lining up to pitch for the business.
Phil Wood, Oracle's e-business manager, said there was a case for the IT industry to ring alarm bells when they see projects which are likely to fall over. "We all have great experience of seeing how companies are developing systems. Maybe there is a responsibility on us to [speak out] if we see areas that could do with help."
One area of concern was the 3D animation, which stopped many people visiting Boo's site. Therese Torris, an analyst at Forrester Research said, "Ninety-nine per cent of European and 98% of US homes lack the high-bandwidth access needed to easily access such animations."
The back-end systems at Boo were intended to allow premium prices to be maintained in different countries, for sales in different currencies, and for orders to be channelled back to a distribution system that could deliver globally within days. The systems also needed to link in with suppliers' networks, which were small sportswear outlets that lacked IT expertise.
Robin Bloor, chief executive officer of Bloor Research, said Boo should have done its research. "We don't know whether it received bad advice. If you are going to build a global business, it takes more than a year."
Boo founder Kajsa Leander said Boo tried to build the systems itself because it was unable to find management consultancies with the expertise to help it.
Andersen Consulting said it had been approached by Boo.com in Scandinavia 18 months ago, but had decided not to take up a business opportunity with the firm. Insiders at Andersen are believed to have thought Boo's plans were too ambitious.