The tangle of current Internet options for processors holds the same sense of confusion that befell Alice after falling through the looking glass.
In the story Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a young girl gets even more lost while following an impatient white rabbit. Meanwhile, a constantly disappearing Cheshire cat grins from ear to ear, and a Mad Hatter holds an endless tea party.
Electronic commerce in the plastics industry brings that same giddy feeling of vertigo. Wherever you look, another player has entered the dizzying arena — a gladiator circling through cyberspace — and claims to offer a tea-party romp of purchasing efficiency.
Now that a lot of the independent trading exchanges have disappeared like that Cheshire tabby, you'd think the dot-coms would be easier to sort out. But that wouldn't be true.
Instead, we've entered consortia central. A litany of resin companies — including suppliers, compounders and distributors — either have invested in several public-trading dot-coms or want to sell product via those sites.
You have Omnexus, backed by the might of 14 investing companies and just starting down its path to become a plastics e-marketplace deluxe for shopping and sourcing.
You have the suddenly stronger ChemConnect Inc. After merging with Envera in June, it now claims to offer both online purchasing and the ability to connect processors directly with suppliers in a single bound. About one-third of ChemConnect's equity also comes from plastics and chemical companies.
And you have resin distributor GE Polymerland, casting a long shadow due to its ability to have actually generated more than $1.5 billion in Internet transactions to date. And it also includes about 30 resin-based companies on its site.
Plus, hiding in the corner but about to make its move is Elemica, another chemicals-and-plastics consortium that wants to connect companies together into one big happy family of supply-chain purchasers.
Add to that the host of resin companies starting to hook up direct computer purchasing systems on their own, and you have a polyglot of head-spinning choices. Plus, don't forget about automotive consortium Covisint and others in end markets; they want their cut of the action, too.
The jargon is just as circular. There's the front end and there's the back end, and dot-coms can claim to do either or both. There are public and private sites. There are special collaboration sites, and there are sites offering Web-hosted connectivity.
Don't ask us to make sense of all this. Sometimes, the definitions shift about as often as Alice's sense of direction, and what a dot-com actually does changes depending who is asked and when.
The vying companies have a huge task ahead. That includes Omnexus, starting from a trailing position but with some money in the bank, too.
For all of them, processors still must be convinced of the value of shifting purchases to sell-side dot-coms. That becomes the $60,000 question for many potential customers, many of whom have not yet found that it makes good economic sense.
Some of those Internet-based sites eventually should find their way home. And hopefully, unlike Alice, they won't have to eat some magic mushrooms first.