E-business hampered by logistics

IT directors at the recent Computer Weekly 500 club meeting expressed serious concerns about the logistics of e-business. Julia...

IT directors at the recent Computer Weekly 500 club meeting expressed serious concerns about the logistics of e-business. Julia Vowler reports

Say "e-business" and, just like some kind of word-association game, everyone promptly replies "Web". But the very promptness of that reply points to a grave danger - that of viewing e-business as nothing more than an electronic catalogue with the capability to accept credit card details.

The truth is that the Web performs only two of the essential functions of the supply chain - selling the goods and taking the money. It does nothing about actually getting the goods to the purchaser. It does not matter whether those goods are a a tub of Ben & Jerry's ice cream or a hundred tons of raw materials and 50,000 widgets, selling them and paying for them is not the end of the story.

The problem is that there is absolutely nothing electronic about the physical transportation of goods. Like it or not, the unacceptable back-end of the brave new e-business revolution is a truck bombing up a motorway.

And the non-electronic nature of the back-end of e-business is definitely both a stumbling block and, judging by the muted reaction from the IT directors at last week's Computer Weekly 500 Club Meeting on the subject of e-logistics, one that incites indifference, depression, or both.

The general reaction among the 500 Club members was that e-logistics doesn't have that much going for it. Despite lots of media hype about the rash of logistics Internet exchanges sprouting up, no one seemed to think they had anything exciting or useful to offer.

Most directors pointed out that they had already gone to considerable lengths to hammer out very tight contracts with their partners in the logistics industries. They failed to see why they should risk credibility in the eyes of their customers by entrusting their goods to anyone else, let alone some potentially fly-by-night dotcom exchange.

If all e-logistics can do is find you a faster, cheaper truck, no one is particularly interested.

Maybe the eyes of IT directors won't light up until e-logistics makes a dramatic breakthrough in the economics of the second law of thermodynamics and every purchasing officer can have an icon on their screen marked "Beam it over, Scottie".

Zapping 50,000 widgets through the ether as a data stream is more like end-to-end e-business. Let's just hope the ice cream doesn't melt before it reconstitutes itself in the freezer.

For full details of the latest Computer Weekly 500 Club meeting, see next week's issue.

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