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ISSUE 504: The high-tech office- June 22 1999

ALAN ZISMAN

ecBuilder offers an affordable and simple way
for smaller firms to cash in on e-commerce

By now, I suspect that most readers, or at least their employers, have a Web site. While Web sites are valuable, they are in most cases a digital brochure, not directly contributing to the bottom line.

Up to now, it's been a big jump for companies to make the transition from using the Web to talk about their business to actually taking orders and making sales online. It's a transition that most smaller businesses -- for good reason -- have been hesitant to make.

Setting up a site for so-called e-commerce adds dramatically to its complexity and cost. And there is no guarantee that it will result in enough increased sales to make the whole project profitable.

A recent report by Connecticut-based Gartner Group based on data from 20 mid- to large-sized businesses, concluded that creating a new e-commerce site costs an average of US $1 million and takes about five months to get up and running. And to get a site that sets you apart from the competition costs anywhere from US$5 million to US$20 million.

With well-known e-commerce sites such as Amazon.com still unprofitable, that's money that is hard for many of us to justify
spending.

Vancouver's Multiactive Software (www.multiactive.com) ecBuilder product promises to "bring e-commerce to small business." In fact, they go on to promise that users can "get their business online in under an hour." All with software that costs about $150 for the standard version and $750 for the professional edition.

Because ecBuilder uses wizards and templates, it really is relatively simple to set up a site that can accept and process online orders, as well as offer customers a place to leave questions.

ecBuilder can't provide everything that you'll find on a multimillion-dollar Web site. But most businesses don't need all that and may find ecBuilder an affordable and, perhaps equally important, accessible way to get themselves selling on the Web.

The software works well and it's possible to create a site without needing to know anything about the underlying HTML code that makes all Web pages work.

A typical site starts off with an information page with room for a company's profile, address and logo. The templates make it easy to choose a range of designs and colour schemes.

From there, it's on to building a catalogue and to breaking it up into sections or departments, just as in a physical store. You can also add text descriptions and graphics for the products. (Unfortunately, the program doesn't let you import this information into typical database formats.)

Assuming that your business already has an account with a financial institution for processing credit card information, the next step is to create a page for orders and product in-
quiries. Tax and shipping information can also be added along with payment options such as credit cards, COD and money orders. There are even graphics for a range of credit cards.

Built-in security ensures that credit card information is encoded by a secure socket layer, which provides protection for shoppers and merchants alike.

Assuming that you've already got a Web site hosted by an Internet Service Provider, ecBuilder will easily upload its files right to your address. It also automatically submits information about your new site to up to eight popular search engines, such as Yahoo!

The entry-level version is limited to a 10-page site, compared to a maximum of 100 pages with the Pro version. While both include 30 templates and 18 colour schemes, users of the basic version can only use one of the five data templates at a time.

ecBuilder was named the Best Internet Commerce Software at the 1999 Spring Symposium of the Software & Information Industry Association, beating out heavy hitters including Microsoft, Adobe Systems and Net Perceptions, the technology used by Amazon.com. Earlier this month, Multiactive received an award for Excellence in Product Innovation from the B.C. Technology Industries Association.

Demo versions of both the entry-level and Pro versions of the software are available from the company's Web site. *

In issue 503 we congratulated the wrong prize-winner. Eugene Radvenis, a Vancouver animator specializing in Architecture with his animation of Liberty Street, an urban entertainment centre proposed for Langley, won the grand prize for the computer animation category in the Viz Image and Animation contest. Congratulations, Eugene. *



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan