E-commerce helps close the great divide between companies, their suppliers and customers by allowing them to trade “one-on-one”, regardless of the distance between them.

In South Africa, companies are utilising e-commerce more willingly as Internet usage has become more wide-spread and people have become more trusting of technology. But what does it take to get it right?
Martin Robinson from Bluekey Software Solutions, which specialises in the implementation of SAP Business One, says robust, capable and flexible back-end technologies are key.
“It’s not enough to have a great-looking website with a purchasing facility. Essentially, a website is just a virtual shop face, a virtual point of contact. It’s what processes occur in the ERP solution that is important. "Streamlining the process between procurement of services, or goods can only be achieved if a stable, live and integrated solution is utilised. This also plays a role in customer service. Why wait for the end of the day to see what orders have been placed by customers, when you can action the order immediately and reduce turn-around times?
“Users don’t want to have to pick up the phone to find out if there’s stock available, how much it’s going to cost them, if they’re entitled to a discount or how long it’ll take for their order to be delivered.
"This information should be provided at the point of purchase, which is the website. The information needs to be accurate. For this to happen, the website needs to feed into the company’s systems, otherwise it’s just a façade,” he says.
It sounds complicated, expensive, and perhaps the domain of bigger companies and retailers only? Robinson says this is not the case.
“Even mid-size and smaller companies can successfully trade electronically, and they don’t need to have bells-and-whistles accounting, customer relationship management, supply chain and inventory management systems. An integrated business management tool like SAP Business One will do the trick.
“As a central repository of customer and stock information, and with its capabilities to integrate and streamline all aspects of a business in real-time, SAP Business One acts behind the scenes to facilitate e-commerce transactions, and ensure that information accessed on a company’s e-commerce site is current.
“With SAP Business One, a company’s customers can place orders directly into the system via their website. They will receive an alert immediately if there isn’t stock available and when it will be. Customers can also check and update their information directly so they know whether they’re entitled to a discount and what their payment terms are.
"They can also log on to the website to track the status and progress of their orders. It just all happens automatically; and without the old 'finger trouble' scenario,” says Martin. “Any company that is already using SAP Business One to optimise their business can use it to enter the world of e-commerce."
While bigger companies, especially those with international influences, have long been dabbling in e-commerce, Robinson says there aren’t too many smaller-sized enterprises in South Africa leveraging it at the moment.
“The concept is still relatively new to SMEs. However, now that there are integrated business management and enterprise resource planning tools like SAP Business One available to better-meet the needs of smaller businesses, adoption of these technologies is spreading quite rapidly. It won’t take long before these companies start asking what else their ERP system can do for them. Enabling e-commerce is one,” he concludes.