The Internet's role in business-to-business applications is exciting cautious interest from supermarket information systems executives.
sensitive business documents via the Internet raises questions about security, standards and reliability.
Some companies, however, plan to get their feet wet by using Internet technology to transmit nonproprietary information. At the same time, industry groups are grappling with the security issues that have technology executives worried.
SN: In the realm of business-to-business applications within the supermarket industry, how much of a role do you think the Internet can play?
NICHOLSON: I think the business impact, in terms of the exchange of data and information, could be fairly significant, though I think it has not been developed at this point. We're not doing a significant amount of data movement over the Internet now, but I know people that are. If you speculate and say that the Internet becomes the primary business vehicle for communication, then obviously it'll become important for our industry as well as other industries. But it's hard to know exactly where it's headed.
HOMA: Business to business, I don't see an impact. It may be quite a while before that happens. I have three concerns. Security is one. Secondly, there are very few standards for business-to-business interactions; there are electronic data interchange standards on private networks but not on the Internet. The third is reliability -- I just don't see it. At this point I would not bet my business on doing my business on the Internet.
NICHOLSON: I agree that everybody's concerned about security. But realistically, the things that arouse security concerns we wouldn't, initially, look to put on the Internet. However, there's a lot of data that moves around where security's not an issue. I'm not going to send my credit card transactions over the Internet at this point. But when a wholesaler or manufacturer is sending a new item file to me over the Internet, who cares? It's not a security issue if somebody intercepts that and finds out Procter & Gamble is coming out with a new form of Tide. By the time they're sending the retailer the file, it's public knowledge.
SMITH: From a business standpoint, I think there will be additional opportunities for more participation. As we look at people like the independent retailers, who really aren't participating in value-added networks today, I believe they will begin to take advantage of it. I'm still a little concerned about security, and the lack of standards, but it's going to come.
SN: Assuming there's interest in business uses of the Internet, what needs to happen for the supermarket industry to take full advantage of the technology?
DRURY: The challenges are the ones that you would expect. There's certainly a security issue, but I think we can solve that. No one I've talked to thinks that's a problem long-term.
Coming up with standards is a concern about Internet usage. But we also have to be careful not to take something that's already a standard and have it become 50 different variations of a standard. We need to look at this as an industry opportunity, and avoid trying to do fragmented things.
I was recently at an Efficient Consumer Response Operating Committee meeting, where I'm chairing a committee to essentially build an industry intranet, and we agreed it's not necessary. The reason is there's already a program under way at the Uniform Code Council to do that, and secondly there's an enormous amount of activity in the Voluntary Inter-Industry Commerce Standards group to use Internet technologies to tie business together. For example, [there is] a Collaborative Planning, Forecasting and Replenishment industrywide initiative to do forecasts and replenishment using the Internet.
HOMA: Beyond business uses, there are other ways to use the Internet. One is to search out information. That has huge value. And I think as a method to reach your customers it's excellent.