Vendors, distributors, resellers and end users all stand to benefit from an integrated e-commerce solution, developed by a South African company, which promises to change the way the supply chain works in the IT channel.

improWeb is making its e-commerce gateway available commercially, and MD Henno Marais believes it will strike a chord with distributors and resellers battling to maximise their business opportunities in the current economic downturn.
The system integrates a distributor's back-end pricing and logistics systems with a reseller's front-end database to completely automate the processes usually involved in quoting, checking stockholding, ordering, paying and delivery.
The system is modular, so portions could be implemented depending on a company's specific needs – but its true value lies in its end-to-end integration, Marais says.
It starts with a distributor's back-end systems – the price lists, inventory and logistics. Once these are fully automated and integrated, it aids the distrbutor with quoting, stockholding queries, ordering, stock-picking and delivery/collections.
Because resellers can perform most of these tasks themselves, querying the system on pricing and stock-holding, then placing an order and paying online, invoices, picking lists and delivery or collection notes can be generated automatically.
This greatly reduces the amount of time and manpower required by both distributor and resellers, while consideraby speeding the process.
The next step in the supply chain comes in when resellers integrate their own Web presences to the distributor's back-end systems.
The reseller's Web site has its own branding and user interface, but the information displayed is dynamic.
This means the customers can query the reseller's site for products – which would only be displayed if the distributor had them in stock – then generate his own quotation. The customer could then pay, either online or by account, and click to place the order. This is ordered directly on to the distributor's system, and a picking note is generated automatically.
The system takes care of all paperwork and payments.
improWeb can close the loop by having orders picked up from the distrbutor and delivered to the customer.
"We intend to become the e-commerce gateway for the IT industry," Marais says.
Nay-sayers who believe that e-commerce isn't a viable option in the local market don't have to look far to find compelling evidence to change their minds, he adds.
One car is sold every minute on eBay – and online sales accounted for 44% of all computers sold last year.
"There are 250-million people on Facebook and MySpace, making it the equivalent of the fourth-biggest country in the world. And there are 900 000 people in the South African Facebook community – the sixth-largest such community in the world."
These statistics indicate that e-commerce becoming a reality in the world. And, although South Africa may be behind the curve in terms of Internet access, e-commerce buying power and online business acumen, this is bound to change quickly.
"Now that the telecommunications monopolies are crumbling and more possibilities are opening up, we are going to see a lot more people entering the Internet space," says Marais. "And the area we are playing in – that of hardware sales – is one where there is already a high percentage of online users. So we can expect online sales to take off soon and quickly."
The problem companies face, however, is getting their sites on to the desktops of their potential customers – and then ensuring that a sale takes place.
"In 2008, there were 25-billion Web sites, with 4-million new sites being added every month. This means it's becoming tougher and tougher to compete.
"But, with business-to-consumer commerce worth $517-billion; and business-to-business commerce worth $5,2-trillion it's certainly worth making the effort to get it right."
By 2012, the figure for business-to-business commerce is expected to grow to about $12,4-trillion, so the Internet is rapidly becoming a great tool to boost business, Marais says.
improWeb offers its integrated system to all players in the IT supply chain, from vendors and distributors to resellers. Marais has also written a book, "How to Trade Online", which he offers free to any company or individual interested in e-commerce.