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August 27, 1998


'We'll know e-commerce works when it disappears!'

Email this story to a friend. Back to IIW coverage index. Immediately after a scintillating presentation at the IIW '98, Chris Vandenberg, lead programme manager, Internet Services Business Unit, Microsoft Corporation, granted Madhuri Velegar K a snappy interview that examines the fundamentals of e-commerce.

How do you define e-commerce?
I would define it as enabling (retail) electronic transaction, facilitating business and business transactions, and trying to acquire technology to make supply chains more efficient, making it more convenient for customers to purchase goods and services, and to make it easier when commerce extends to the government sector. In my interactions, I get that same convenience and efficiency in how I interact with government agencies.

Do you think it is necessary to look at e-commerce from the two different perspectives of being 'on the Web' or 'off the Web' or could a more unified approach be taken?
I think you get certain economies of scale when you apply it to certain standard mechanisms, which is the real benefit of the Web.

You know what the consumer is going to be able to support in terms of a PC or a TV type of device, you have certain capabilities as a merchant that you can expect in a Web-based environment because you know what the technologies are: They are standardised and they apply well.

If you try and operate e-commerce out of a framework of those standards, it becomes challenging to construct broad-based solution or one-off solutions; each time you create an application, the criteria will be different as to how customers will interact and use that application.

That really is the whole benefit of the Internet and the Web. They've taken EDI (electronic data interchange) and added standardisation that has made it much easier for smaller organisations which could not put in much capital investment.

What are prominent compelling standards and protocols for e-commerce and what are their advantages and the disadvantages over each other?
I can't say about security standards. But I can talk about protocols; there is a group called the WWWC (World Wide Web Consortium) and on the Internet side there's the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force). Between these two organisations, you manage to get a lot of work on the network protocols, HTTP and the like, come out. Vendors play a major part and in the content protocols things emerge from the normal HTTP to the latest HTML 3.2, and to the HTML 4.0 which is soon coming out.

We're seeing a lot of work in dynamic HTML, and we're starting to see work in solving the challenges of the Internet, where there is no form of structured date on the Web today. There are no representations for that. And XML solves a lot of that... finds data, the pages. And also in DAC (distributed authoring and versioning), there is tremendous work to bring structure to the Internet, the ability to use the HTML interface and HTTP, and the single application interface that the user has to a variety of rich structured data.

Could you do some visionary stuff on e-commerce in the future? Could you provide some trends, how will it evolve?
most important thing is that we'll know that e-commerce works when it "disappears"! I'll explain:

When you pick up the telephone today, it just works. You don't think of how it is connected to the central office, how it switches... It works. It's transparent. That's a good rule of thumb on how to determine when a technology becomes so ingrained in its use and it becomes so easy and ubiquitous that people don't think about it.

The future of e-commerce is that it will disappear from our thinking and we won't have to do any extra work to make it happen... it will just be integrated into the overall exchanges and services of our everyday life.

The smart card will be a key element in carrying my identity with me. What's puzzling people in India is the credit card with a signature does not lend itself to the Web but if I could plug it (the smart card) in somewhere, it has the same power, same weight in authorisation of a transaction and a way of overcoming using a barrier in technology without losing the benefit to the consumer.

Technology arises to solve fundamental problems and in 2-3 years, we'll see tremendous use of e-commerce and you won't even know it.

Will exotic stuff like Microsoft Wallet or the Navio operation system gain popularity in handling e-commerce in future?
Wallet is a great example. Technology will be designed to address specific user needs. The user said to us, "We don't want to enter credit card info into 20 different sites. We should be able to enter it in one place because in a household more than one person uses the PC. I don't want to give my four-year-old access to my credit card number."

This was an issue... here's where the Microsoft Wallet entered. It allows the user to enter his credit card info into it once. It gets fully encrypted. It has the ability to support multiple users. It requires a password to authorise use of your credit card. But I can enter multiple shipping addresses and, in business, click on what info I want to pass to the vendor. It gets passed on through a second channel.

How is policing done in e-commerce from the standpoint of preventing fraud?
We have the universal code of business conduct rules where laws, contracts are enforced. Around the world, these are applied fairly widely to e-commerce as well. So if I construct a form on the Web page which spells out correctly, in legal language, what I set out to do and expect out of you, then you authorise that via the method agreed upon. That is as valid and binding a transaction as any other contract.

There needs to be different mechanisms to be put in to prevent credit card fraud. The IT industry has the ability to identify the authenticity of your card much more quickly than your merchant. The technological mechanisms are becoming more ubiquitous.

What are the business models emerging and what are the areas we must focus on?
There is business. We're all looking for those areas. People try things. The good thing for India is that you have the benefit of knowing what other groups have done, to build on their success stories and, in other cases, not make the painful mistakes that they have made. You have the hindsight not to be at a competitive disadvantage because the market is emerging just now.

What are the features of good money? Will e-commerce have them all?
You bring up the issue of indemnity and there is value in walking up to the grocery store, putting down cash and not telling the grocery store who I am. Many people will want to do that.

I use a card to buy my groceries and my grocer knows me through my purchases. What I get in value, I get sale items at low cost and a few other things too because they know the stuff I buy. I'm willing to let them go ahead and make that "tracking relationship".

Back to IIW coverage index. There will be services that will allow me to use my smart card that has stored value and if that stored value model offers me the same indemnity as cash, I will be happy. I get value by storing some info with them; I get the choice.

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