Dell expands e-commerce strategy

Dell wants to be more than just the biggest online commerce site on the Web. It wants to be a leading facilitator of business-to-business e-commerce too.
Written by Michael R.Zimmerman, Contributor

To make that strategy a reality, the direct marketer announced at the N+I networking communications trade show it is engaging enterprise resource planning providers, such as SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft and Baan in a new concept known as Premiere Commerce.

Key to the plan is the integration of the various ERP vendors' respective systems with Dell's own customised Premiere Pages. Free to any company who requests it, Premiere Pages are Web pages that provide the individual company predefined configuration, pricing and availability (among other things) on systems, components and peripherals.

Up to now, those pages, which Dell says currently total 15,000, have been static pages with specific configurations and pricing, and to which only a select few had access.

Premiere Commerce enables customers to include a variety of configurations and upgrade possibilities. Pricing is updated dynamically by Dell, remotely and in the background, and workflow technology has been added to the pages that allow companies to offer the page to a variety of employees. As a result, a midlevel manager, for example, could log onto his company's Premiere Page and construct a purchase order. After saving the form, the procurement manager could look at the request and check that the manager's order is inline with his purchasing options. If it is, he or she can then approve the order and send it to Dell.

In addition to these changes, Dell is actively working with customers who have large ERP installations and who wish to integrate those applications with the procurement process of Premiere Pages. A handful of companies are currently up and running small pilot projects, officials here said.

"This is going to streamline purchase authorisation," said Dell Chairman and CEO, Michael Dell in a question and answer session following his keynote speech here this afternoon.

Dell Senior Vice President and Group General Manager Joe Marengi, added that Dell will play no favourites with regards to its ERP support. "We'll be very agnostic about it," Marengi said. "We have to remain open."

Marengi added that Dell would not be actively pursuing the ERP vendors. Rather the Premiere Commerce concept is to handle what needs the customer has first. "We'll take a customer, see what needs they have and how to service them, then work it backwards. We'll start with the customer and move backwards."

Companies that ignore the benefits the Internet has to offer, according to Dell, or that treat it as a side show will pay the price down the road. "You can't treat the Internet like something that gets bolted onto your company," he said. In the near future, "All companies will be forced to answer the question, 'How do you use information to better enhance the relationship with customers?' " Dell is certainly practising what it preaches. In the chairman's 45-minute speech today, Dell doled out statistic after statistic about his company's successes on the Web. A sample:

24 percent of the company's support is handled online.

Dell receives 50,000 e-mail messages a month from customers.

It receives 100,000 order-status-requests a month.

Dell is the largest commerce site on the Web.

Online traffic has increased 11 times since last year.

Online revenue has increased 14 times since last year.

The company is pulling in $100 million in revenue a week from online sales.

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