Microsoft stakes its claim in NZ e-commerce projects

With the results of its partnership with Telecom yet to emerge, Microsoft has already marked itself as the key player in new e-commerce developments - but look out too for CourierPost.

With the results of its partnership with Telecom yet to emerge, Microsoft has already marked itself as the key player in new e-commerce developments - but look out too for CourierPost.

Computer services company Axon this week confirmed that its industry-leading business-to-business e-commerce service, Quality Direct, had been migrated from the IBM Net.Commerce platform on which it has operated for the past two years to Microsoft's Site Server Commerce Edition.

The biggest local consumer e-commerce site yet, Flying Pig, has also been built on the Microsoft commerce platform. Flying Pig is poised to make a soft launch this week, possibly in time for shareholder Advantage Group's AGM tomorrow morning.

Microsoft's business solutions manager, Terry Allen, describes the Quality Direct project as a "flagship" for his company's e-commerce strategy. Microsoft has identified Axon as "one of our premier partners in delivering e-commerce solutions into other organisations," he says.

Microsoft's own consultancy team has worked on the Quality Direct migration over the past six months, "taking on some of the risks and deadlines of the project" says Allen.

Even though the delivery has been completed "the relationship is only just beginning. It's not just about one site, but the opportunity to deliver Microsoft-based procurement systems into other organisations."

For his part, Axon's general manager of marketing and client services, Scott Green, cites Microsoft's BizTalk initiative, which aims to allow integration of disparate business applications with XML (Extensible Markup Language), as a key element in Axon's plans.

Axon used a briefing on Tuesday to announce the launch of eFormation, a new e-commerce consulting division, and its eCommerce Rapid Launch Methodology, which is based on a set of templates Axon has developed on the basis of its experience with Quality Direct.

Green says that although other business-to-business procurement sites have emerged recently, Quality Direct's level of supplier integration still sets it apart. Both suppliers and customers have access to data on the performance of suppliers.

Green concedes that as the crop of suppliers hooked into Quality Direct expands, a niche is opening for a dedicated fulfillment company able to integrate with the system and provide a single delivery service for many suppliers.

Axon is likely to stick to its "brokerage" model rather than try and development its own fulfillment business, but an organisation "like CourierPost" could well have a role, says Green. He declines to "confirm or deny" whether Axon has been in talks with CourierPost.

FlyingPig, meanwhile, has contracted to use CourierPost not only for orders placed through its Website, but orders placed in Whitcoulls stores, for which Flying Pig is acting as fulfillment agent.

FlyingPig customers will soon be able to use CourierPost's track-and-trace ability. For each order, they will be emailed a URL which will lead to a Web page showing the status of their order.

FlyingPig Chief technology officer Phil Henderson says that while the company is guaranteeing delivery of products that can be sourced in New Zealand within three working days, it should be able to deliver orders processed before midnight by midday the following in all but rural areas. The target for orders sourced from the US is seven days, and 10 days from the UK.

Although the company will use the BNZ Buyline real-time credit card transaction facility developed by Advantage, Henderson says settlement will be processed only when the product is in hand and ready to ship, rather than when the customer places the order.

The first incarnation of FlyingPig is essentially a completion of the Whitcoulls site that was in development up till July and carries a catalogue of 1.4 million books (including 50,000 titles from 570 New Zealand publishers), 350 software titles, 6000 videos and a number of stationery lines.

The next line to be added will be music. The company is preparing to offer Liquid Audio and RealPlayer samples from some of the 200,000 CDs it has on catalogue.

Henderson says FlyingPig has already been talking to local record companies and says his company's first choice is always to deal locally - citing the choice of e-commerce start-up exo-net to provide FlyingPig's ERP system.

But he says FlyingPig will reserve the right to go outside the country to source books, CDs, videos or DVDs.

"If New Zealand suppliers won't carry them, we have no choice. We're about range."

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