Advice for the age of e-verything

Global Electronic Commerce - e-Enterprise - The Business of e-Commerce
November 17, 2000

Until recently, the lack of suitable texts to support teaching of the management and business applications of e-commerce has been a problem for information systems lecturers. Although many, often brief, e-commerce books have been published for professionals, there have been few books intended for learning support that combine emerging academic models and concepts, detailed case studies and student activities, together with research into levels of and barriers to adoption.

Although traditional texts on business information systems now routinely include a chapter on e-commerce, this will often be limited to the explanation of the history of the internet, basic technical terms and website hosting and creation. With the introduction of specific e-commerce modules as options on undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and entire courses focused on the topic, there is now an urgent need for specialist texts that provide the depth needed for recommendation as core texts on these modules and courses.

A further requirement for such texts is a multidisciplinary approach that is not restricted to traditional information systems theory but also includes concepts drawn from the pool of academic knowledge on business strategy, economics, marketing and human-resources management. This approach is required because the business adoption of e-commerce often implies the development of new markets and products, organisational transformation and associated problems of change and knowledge management.

The past year has seen a partial solution to these problems through the publication of Electronic Commerce: A Managerial Perspective by Efraim Turban, Jae Lee, David King and Raymond Chung; Electronic Commerce Strategies and Models for Business-to-Business Trading by Paul Timmers; and E-Business: Roadmap for Success by Ravi Kalakota and Marcia Robinson. It is against these that new learning support materials must be compared.

e-Enterprise by Faisal Hoque is an accessible introduction to new business models facilitated by e-commerce. It reviews both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) arenas. It is part of the Breakthrough in Application Development series from Cambridge University Press. This is reflected in the content, which outlines how an organisation can define an architecture for e-business using a component or object-based approach. The author has practical experience of applying this approach in American corporations. But this book is frustrating as the explanations are not sufficiently detailed to help lecturers provide grounding to students either in strategy or implementation approaches to e-commerce.

The book is wide ranging, introducing e-applications such as virtual marketplaces, customer relationship management, auctioning, procurement and supply-chain management. Technological enablers, such as collaboration tools, work-flow management, personalisation and security systems, are presented together with different component-based approaches, including enterprise application integration, applications servers and standards such as Corba, DCom and Enterprise JavaBeans.

Strategic issues in the creation of an e-enterprise are also considered, including vision definition, cost-benefit analysis, culture, staff resources and organisational resources. The overall impression is of the beginnings of an excellent resource. But it needs to be twice the length and to incorporate more diagrams, detailed case studies and research findings on the adoption of the technologies described. What exists is a useful, comprehensive checklist of items that should be covered by lecturers introducing students to the business changes needed successfully to achieve e-enterprise.

The Business of e-Commerce by Paul May is in the same series. It covers similar ground to Hoque's book. One might expect a more European perspective as the author is a UK-based consultant, but the examples are typically the well-known US innovators such as Amazon, eBay and Peapod. As with Hoque's book, the intended audience is business and IT managers who are, in May's words, intending to "update their command of electronic commerce terminology, technologies and priorities; to enhance their ability to add value to the business by understanding electronic-commerce drivers".

The book starts by describing a generic model of e-commerce, including B2C and B2B categories. Here, as throughout, there are useful sidebars that summarise key decisions and opportunities, for example, a checklist for channel development and revenue-generating options for e-commerce.

Following this introduction, "path-finder applications" are covered, including retail, auctions, advice and care, procurement, inventory exchange, real-time collaboration and change. The book then moves on to introduce client and server-side development technologies, such as Java, XML and new standards for network protocols, security and mobile communications. This is followed by coverage of architectures for e-commerce, an explanation of how tiered architectures and object models are used to deliver application services, such as personalisation and transactional e-commerce. The book concludes by briefly reviewing legal, privacy and resourcing constraints on e-commerce.

There is considerable overlap in content between these two books, but Hoque tends to be stronger on describing the business applications of e-commerce and reviewing strategic issues. May has more detailed explanation of the technologies. As a resource for lecturers and students, this tips the balance in favour of Hoque's book. The similarity in coverage leaves one wishing for a 500-page book by either of these authors that would cover the topics in more detail, but in the same accessible style.

Global Electronic Commerce by Christopher Westland and Theodore Clark is a heavier-hitting volume in content, style and weight. The authors intentionally eschew the prescriptive approach of what they describe as the "how-to-make-money-on-the-internet genre of trade press publications". Instead, they present a range of issues in 12 chapters, aimed at a university course 12 semesters long. A flavour of the topic style is indicated by chapter titles such as "IT and the post-industrial revolution", "Redefining the geography of space and time" and "The communications infrastructure in transition".

While this reflective approach may be suitable for postgraduate studies, perhaps on an MBA elective in e-commerce, it is perhaps insufficiently direct and captivating for undergraduates. Unified chapters on electronic commerce strategy, business models, change management or implementation approaches would be more helpful.

It has been said that we live in the era of "e-everything". With terms such as e-commerce, e-marketing, e-business, e-tailing and e-logistics now commonly used, it is useful to explore with students the significance of these terms. What does the prefix "e" add to existing business terms, what influence does "e-hype" have on rational technology investment and how are different types of "e-initiatives" managed within an organisation? A full introduction to the origins, different interpretations and applications of each of these terms in any of these books would help clarify the business implications of the new digital technologies.

In terms of pedagogic features, this third book is superior to the other two, incorporating case studies, references and suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter. However, it is limited in comparison with its competitors, such as Turban et al , as there are no learning objectives, web links, summaries or further questions. The text is also disappointing in design and style, with poor diagrams and no screenshots or definitions to enliven the text. With the growth in e-learning, there is also a clear need for a companion website that includes up-to-date links, additional case studies and answers to questions to support learning. Sadly, this support is not available for any of the three books reviewed here.

Perhaps the best feature of the Westland and Clark text is its global orientation, with examples drawn from Europe and Asia in addition to the more standard fare from the United States. It is also thorough in its treatment of inter-organisational B2B e-commerce, with chapters on "Supply-chain management and information alliances", "Electronic markets and intermediaries", "Electronic financial markets" and "Logistics and service opportunities".

To summarise, the Westland and Clark book is a welcome addition to books suitable for recommended reading at postgraduate level, although it is inferior to some of its predecessors. The other two books highlight e-commerce issues facing practitioners and could be included on reading lists, but they lack the depth or pedagogic features to be recommended as core texts.

All three books were written before the dramatic devaluation of technology stocks during 2000 and the high-profile failure of dotcoms such as and As a result, they appear dated, since they adopt a largely unquestioning approach to the adoption of e-commerce. A more balanced approach is now desirable where the opportunities and threats presented by e-commerce are evaluated in a systematic manner. Students should be encouraged in the analysis of the business case for e-commerce investment, with emphasis on managing the many risks involved with introducing e-commerce.

Dave Chaffey is senior lecturer, business school, University of Derby.

Global Electronic Commerce: Theory and Case Studies

Author - Christopher J. Westland
ISBN - 0 262 23205 7
Publisher - MIT Press
Price - £44.95
Pages - 592

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