enterprises stand to make substantial gains in productivity from
electronic commerce, while at the same time facilitating their international
operations. As from 2001, SMEs should account for approximately
€30 billion of turnover in the market, according to the International
Data Corporation (IDC). For them to successfully enter this market,
however, they will have to master a technology which is constantly
evolving, regulations which are embryonic and not very homogeneous,
security problems linked to orders and payments and specific kinds
of advertising and marketing.
"The originality of the Peter project is that it has integrated
all these aspects, after detailed analysis, to propose a complete
or modulable solution to SMEs adapted to their country and their
market", explains Jens Koblin from the German telecommunications
company Teles, which is coordinating the project. Over a two-year
period, Peter brought together seven companies already setting up
virtual shops, five of which were working with customer SMEs
to help them launch their own on-line activity.
A toolbox for SMEs
"The Peter project was designed to evaluate, integrate and
test existing technologies and to create a toolbox consisting
of all the elements required to establish secure on-line sales channels,
protected from the point of view of the product catalogue, the treatment
of orders and payments", continues Jens Koblin. This concept
of a toolbox makes it possible to modulate the architecture according
to the frequently very different needs of SMEs; they are offered
a programme comprising three modules: training in the salient features
of the Internet, of electronic commerce and intellectual property;
an analysis of the needs and requirements of the company and its
customers in order to maximise the use of an electronic commerce
site; and the creation of a fully operational site.
"At the beginning we concentrated on articles such as software
and multimedia products, training programmes or consultancy documents
which could be delivered in an electronic format and regarding which
the security of the vendor's intellectual property rights - what
we call IPRs - is as important as that of the customer's data",
explains Peter's coordinator. "As identical copies can be reproduced
practically infinitely without any loss of quality, these products
are the favoured targets of fraud during electronic exchanges. At
present, however, we do not have any reliable mechanism for safeguarding
IPRs or digital goods."
The other major challenge is that of payment mechanisms. "There
is still no universal standard for making electronic payment safe",
continues Jens Koblin. "On-line transactions between companies
of the same country are no problem, but differences between national
banking systems have obliged us to develop a different solution
for every country".
This drawback could be mitigated in the future by the adoption
and transposition of European Directives now being discussed on
the legal aspects of electronic commerce, electronic money, distance
selling of financial services and authors' rights, as set out in
the e-Europe action plan (1).
Guidelines made available
The findings of this project are now available in the form of guidelines
answering the principal questions put by companies regarding electronic
commerce. Different software modules proposed by Peter make it possible
to benefit from a multilingual catalogue with the possibility of
dealing with orders and payments in real time and the automatic
calculation of delivery costs. Customers are listed in a database
which may be used to send periodic information letters or personalised
mail. The system makes it possible to use authentification and certification
protocols adapted to transfers of confidential data or subject to
intellectual property rights. It is also compatible with the various
encrypted payment mechanisms currently available on the market,
such as SSL, SET, C?SET and Proton.
As is to be expected in a world which changes as fast as that of
the Internet, "the various companies which are partners in
the project are still continuing to update their pilot shops by
integrating new technologies as soon as they are available",
concludes Jens Koblin.
(1) e-Europe 2002, An
information society for all, draft action plan proposed to the European
Council by the European Commission.