The first fruit of Trade New Zealand's $13 million e-commerce project will be delivered next month with a pilot for food and beverage companies exporting to Australia.
The pilot, which is the result of nine month's work, will profile 37 local companies including Hansells, Chateau Icecream and Genoese Foods to hotel, restaurant and institutional buyers across the Tasman.
Trade NZ corporate services head Arama Kukutai says exporters will get a hosted application they can use to profile their capabilities.
Trade NZ will assess each exporter to ensure they're aiming at the right market and have the ability to meet demand.
Kukutai says the aim is to build true e-commerce capabilities, such as logistics and payments, later but it's a matter of crawling before you can walk. "The first task is to assess whether local exporters have what buyers are looking for."
Although the New Zealand Trade Centre already lists exporters, he says the pilot involves more than just a website.
"Any company can put up a website and we're not discouraging them. But we can match queries and, importantly, validate them at both ends. It's not about replacing other sites but about integrating the web into trading processes."
Trade NZ has offices in 38 countries and Kukutai doesn't believe e-commerce alone can match the benefits of having people on the ground.
"Trust is one of the scarcest commodities. There's a lot of work to do building trust at both ends. We have the ability to qualify which companies have the capability to export to which market. We're not just listing anybody. They have to be committed and capable exporters."
Kukutai says Trade NZ's rationale for getting involved in e-business has three parts. The first is ensuring exporters, the majority of which are small and medium-sized companies, take the opportunity to exploit the internet as a trade channel.
"Uptake by exporters has been patchy. The first thing to do is educate people. They have to understand what the issues are before they can make the decision about investing in it."
The second is to ensure Trade NZ's services are online and all its free services are available on a revamped website by mid July.
The third and most challenging is to help exporters get online and make use of the internet as a business medium.
Trade NZ has worked with KPMG consulting to develop the profiling component of the pilot and has signed an agreement with French company Kompass for a products and services classification system. The back end for the system is Microsoft Windows NT and SQL Server, with Vignette for content management.
Cisco is providing networking consulting, particularly on how to optimise access from overseas markets.
Trade NZ works with up to 4000 companies each year and is in contact with 8000 exporters.