Expect technology to make business interaction more seamless as e-commerce continues to grow in the next 10 years.
``I look at it as frictionless commerce,'' said Tim Stojka, former chief executive officer of Plastics Net.com. ``What the Internet has done is provide a medium for less friction in the day-to-day operations.''
Stojka has been a pioneer in e-commerce, going back to 1994. Today, he is CEO of family-run Fast Heat Inc. of Elmhurst, Ill., as well as other ventures.
Stojka said businesses have learned to use the Web, especially for gathering information. That will continue, and so will purchasing online.
``In business-to-business, a lot of expenditures were done face-to-face, but now they are just going online and plugging into a Web site,'' Stojka said.
``The use of the Internet and e-commerce has been astronomical, but it has a long way to go. I think in 10 years, it will be much more exciting, especially global commerce,'' Stojka said.
He points to radio frequency identification tags as a technology that will make a difference. The tags help companies track inventory electronically.
Jay Gardiner, president of thermoplastic resin supplier Gardiner Plastics Inc. in Port Jefferson, N.Y., agreed. ``The future is in using electronics to improve productivity by lowering downtime and lowering costs,'' said Gardiner, who previously was director of business development for Houston-based ECOutlook Inc.
Gardiner said we are heading toward a situation portrayed by the old but futuristic cartoon, The Jetsons.
The Jetsons used a big screen in their living room to do their shopping, telephoning - just about everything. That's where e-commerce is headed - a situation where business can be conducted without personal contact. He pointed to video-conferencing phones as a way to replace the costly travel and face-to-face meetings for complex transactions.
Computer-to-computer communication has the potential to make companies more like partners, and to erase barriers such as language differences, said Mike McGuigan, president and chief executive officer of Elemica, a chemical industry transaction hub based in Wayne, Pa.
``There's a very significant degree of integration through e-business with all trading partners,'' said McGuigan, noting that he expects partners to grow even closer in the coming years.
``Our latest product deals with warehouse space. It allows you to connect right to the terminal warehouse and automatically handle the in-bound and out-bound stock,'' he said, noting that the process eliminates double-keying.
The real advantage of e-commerce, according to David Jukes, CEO of Chertsey, England-based resin distributor Distrupol Ltd., ``lies in knowledge-sharing and the simplification of simple repetitive tasks rather than in buying things cheaper.''
He went on to say that the real innovation has been in open architecture.
``Open architecture is possibly the biggest recent innovation - meaning that people can really adapt their sites to changing needs on a rapid basis without being hidebound by costly licensing issues. Interoperability of systems means that businesses can now talk to each other much more and the sharing of collaborative data through open systems will bring traditional partners closer together,'' Jukes said.
Tim O'Brien, vice president- Americas for GE Plastics, said a key in the future will be getting customers - including molders, designers and original equipment manufacturers - to use the information available on the Web.
``How do you shorten the new product introduction cycle?'' he asked. The idea is to have information on what is commercially ready for customers, so they don't have to wait for a sales rep or a brochure.
``We've built a lot of tools, but now we have to get them to use them,'' he said.
In the future, Gary Brown, director of e-commerce at BASF Corp., sees a day where 75-80 percent of normal business will be automated.
``I also envision more system-to-system connection,'' Brown said. One goal is to create systems that ship products the first time the order is seen.