March 10, 1997 10:00 AM ET
E-Commerce grows up with aid of D&B, Actra
By Jim Kerstetter and Michael Moeller

  Electronic commerce over the Internet is growing beyond fledgling technology into practical business applications that closely link corporate users with customers and suppliers.

This week, Dun & Bradstreet Corp. and Actra Business Systems will lead a series of product introductions at Spring Internet World that match mature technologies such as EDI (electronic data interchange) with younger Internet protocols.

Actra, the year-old joint venture of Netscape Communications Corp. and General Electric Information Systems, will announce at the Los Angeles show its first set of products, the CrossCommerce suite of high-end electronic commerce applications, sources said.

D&B, meanwhile, is adding the "who" and the "what" to corporate procurement on the Internet.

The "who" is D&B's DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System), a database of nine-digit company identification tags (used in the past for EDI identification) that software vendors link with to provide smoother Internet procurement.

The "what" is the company's SPSC (Standard Products and Service Code), an 11-digit code that identifies product types and allows users to go directly to sites that sell that type.

D&B and the companies lining up behind its ID numbers are riding the crest of a second wave of electronic commerce products designed to add reliability and productivity to business-to-business Internet transactions.

The work is a step in the right direction for users who see current electronic commerce products lacking in the old EDI stand-bys, such as guaranteeing that trading partners are who they say they are. Still, users want more.

"I would think that the easy integration of certificates is the thing that I would most want right now," said Richard Warren, vice president at Judds Inc., of Strasburg, Va. "Certainly, that's the highest on my list."

Cashing in

Actra Business Systems' CrossCommerce suite includes:

  • ECXpert: Java administration interface for managing Internet EDI
  • OrderXpert Seller: Transaction processing system for business-to-business commerce
  • OrderXpert Buyer: Internal procurement system
  • Merchant Xpert: Tools for Web storefronts
  • Publishing Xpert: Custom content delivery

D&B has used DUNS numbers internally for more than 20 years, said Frank Fitzsimmons, senior vice president of global electronic commerce at D&B, in Parsippany, N.J.

D&B is in the process of licensing the entire database, with more than 43 million companies, to major software and financial companies.

SAP AG, the German maker of the R/3 enterprise applications suite, is integrating DUNS with its procurement and credit applications and is expected to finish its hooks by the end of the month.

With the DUNS numbers integrated into back-end applications, an R/3 user can automatically ship out a requisition order or other business paperwork over the Internet. American Express Co. also is integrating the DUNS numbers with its Corporate Procurement cards. Other software vendors are eyeing the SPSC codes. Elekom Corp., a Bellevue, Wash., electronic catalog startup, will announce next week at the Internet & Electronic Commerce Conference & Exposition, in New York, its Elekom Procurement application.

The new application, due by midyear, will allow a user to key in a product type and automatically jump to a site that sells it. Transparently, Elekom Procurement sends requisition orders to Web sites the shopper has visited.

Actra's CrossCommerce suite, due at midyear, is following in the same business-to-business vein, tying traditional EDI protocols with Internet standards such as Common Object Request Broker Architecture and Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (see chart).

Netscape officials in Mountain View, Calif., declined to comment.

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