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The Four Horsemen of the B2B eCommerce Apocalypse

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death. In this post we’ll use the metaphor to present our advice for avoiding apocalyptic disasters when creating an industrial B2B eCommerce solution.Four Horsemen of Apocalypse 01

Our experience is almost 10 years of providing these solutions through CDS Visual, and 4 years before that doing the same through a previous company called InPart. We’ve worked with hundreds of companies to build and operate successful B2B eCommerce solutions. We’ve also watched others find their own way – some worked, some didn’t, some cost a lot more than expected and sometimes we’ve fixed ‘less than optimal’ ones.

The first horseman of this apocalypse is DIY Software Development. Do-It-Yourself (DIY) building of software from scratch is the lead evil in this galloping cast. Mostly it doesn’t work. When software and online technology changes at the rate it does how can you expect to hire and keep up-to-date an eCommerce solution unique to you alone? Why would you even try when commercial companies specialized in those fields are doing it and providing it cheaper. This is because costs are amortized across many customers not just your company. Even companies with the resources of Amazon, Grainger and McMaster-Carr don’t build everything themselves. We said ‘mostly it doesn’t work’ – sometimes a necessary solution component is unique to a company and they may forced to build and maintain a component themselves. For example Dorner’s Conveyor Configurator is unique to their products and company.

The second horseman of this apocalypse is Boxed Software. Many folks who avoided the first horseman got cut down by the second! Traditionally software was supplied in a box with a shrink wrap license (break the shrink wrap, accept the license). The cost was often a large initial capital outlay plus ongoing annual ‘maintenance’ costs. The annual maintenance often cost 20% or more of the initial cost and usually added new features and fixed bugs in earlier versions. The annual cost was justified by adding new features to already elaborate and under utilized products (for example it isn’t unusual to use less than 20% of the available functionality (for example SAP). Today, the speed and reliability of modern digital communications provides the alternative of Software as a Service (SaaS). It’s paid for by monthly or annual subscription and includes bug fixes.

The third horseman of this apocalypse is Open Source Software. Some of those smart enough to avoid the first and second horsemen got mowed down by this third one! Seductively, open source software is free – you don’t have to develop it nor do you have to pay a penny to use it. So what’s not to like? Nothing, until you need support for it, or need to enhance it, or adapt it to your specific needs. Then you need a software development or support team of your own, or to contract that out to a third party for those services. And, by the way, the open source license requires that any improvement you make be included free to all users.

The fourth horseman of this apocalypse is Customizing Software. If you built DIY software it was likely built for your purposes so customizing it isn’t necessary. If you bought Boxed Software or Open Source Software built as a general solution, you will likely need to customize, adapt or extend it. You can do that with your own development team or contract that out to a third party. Either way, that’s where the problems start. If you have customized, adapted or extended say version 12, what happens when version 13 comes out? You may need to customize, adapt or extend all over again and that may mean starting from scratch. Because the platform, data structures, operating systems, user interfaces, APIs, security controls, reporting or other functions may work differently. For example, think of how shopping carts, merchant accounts, payment methods, 3D CAD systems, HTML, Java, PHP, browsers and other website technology all have and continue to change. If you must customize be minimalist about it.

CONCLUSIONS:

Avoid the four horsemen of this eCommerce apocalypse. Choose a SaaS provider that takes responsibility for the software, setup services, data preparation and loading, CAD model building, ongoing maintenance and integration with your website. How do you find them? Look for long term subscribing customers, a low churn rate and an excellent reputation in B2B ecommerce for industrial suppliers.

As always we welcome comments and questions in the space below.

Attribution: “Four Horsemen of Apocalypse 01” image courtesy of Creative Commons License

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