Last week I spoke with TIE Commerce's CEO, Dick Raman. Dick, a well-known industry expert, has over 20 years experience designing and building electronic commerce solutions.

Raman has been involved in standardization activities for over a decade and has been an active contributor towards global e-Commerce standards development. He is currently serving, as Chairman of the United Nations body for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), which is responsible for global standards like UN/EDIFACT and ebXML. Dick brings a global view of EDI and e-Commerce in general to the table. TIE Holding NV,the parent company,is listed on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.

eC-BP - Dick, how would you describe the current focus of TIE Commerce with regard to e-Commerce in general and EDI specifically?

Raman - TIE is focused on business interoperability. It is about how businesses can synchronize the processes between them and what means can be used to operate more efficiently. We have been working in the EDI space for the last 20 years and have a wide variety of customers. When the Internet and XML became available, we took the approach of combining be best of EDI and XML in order to solve the common problems of our customers.

eC-BP - How has this focus changed in the last 2 years?

Raman - 10 years ago we developed a slogan "EDI is the backbone of e-Commerce." I have the feeling people better understand that point today, and businesses are able to connect on a technical level pretty easily. I see the attention moving more to understanding that business interoperability is the main issue.

eC-BP - Why do you think this change has come about, and how do you see it manifested?

Raman - It has taken 10 years to get people on board with the idea that semantics are the most important to standardize, but it is gratifying to see things coming along as I predicted. I have been able to facilitate some of the initiatives from my position as a facilitator with UN/EDIFACT and ebXML. The trend is growing for standardization. I find that companies are understanding the need for common semantics that underlay the business transaction so they can move past the transaction and more toward understanding information. When the core components are standardized, at a given point in the process, it doesn't matter whether the transactions are exchanged via the Internet, a VAN, or on diskette. It is all about understanding what the information is, and that it is in fact, the information you need.

eC-BP - What are some of TIE Commerce's current initiatives?

Raman - As a corporation we highlight the interoperability message. Right now we are re-launching our web site to emphasize that message, and we have already realigned our product line. We are more focused on interoperability, and working in different business domains. Our marketing actions are directed at that message, and toward getting companies to understand that we have the necessary expertise and tools to help them.

When we had our IPO in 2000, we set aside funds for investment in products. We redeveloped our XML/EDI line that is now a new generation of EDI tools that can also handle XML.

We have also developed data synchronization and product information management (PIM) products. These products are crucial to doing business in an optimized way. Clean information needs to exist in each company's database before any trading transactions can take place. We have seen the size of EDI transactions grow as more information is included. That information should already be synchronized in the trading partners' databases so it doesn't need to be exchanged in every transaction.

As far as certifications, we are certified with the Drummond Group in Europe and in the US for GS1, and we have a very good relationship with GS1.

eC-BP - How has the market for EDI changed? What has been the impact of Internet based transaction transport on your business?

Raman - TIE has always been a pure software business, and has acted as a reseller for multiple VANs. What we have seen is that the VANs have done well recently because of the increased traffic. People are cautious to move away from VANs because of reliability concerns, and that may be all that stops them from moving completely to Internet based transaction transport.

AS2, ebMS, and other messaging protocols are getting close to the reliability level of the VANs. I don't think security has been a problem; it has been an issue of reliability. As those concerns continue to diminish I see the Internet taking more of the transaction load. Our stance is to promote reliable transportation, and we don't push our customers in any particular direction.

eC-BP - What do you see as your customers' biggest challenges, and how are you helping to address them?

Raman - I see their biggest issue as keeping up with technology and cutting through the hype that tech vendors push on them. Technology in and of itself will not solve the business problems. It may help, but not resolve them all. We are promoting the voice of standardization that reflects the global voice from the world's experts.

eC-BP - What do you see as the greatest growth areas in EDI/e-Commerce?

Raman - Data synch. When Wal-Mart said "Do it" companies complied, and it was relatively easy to work with a single customer. But now companies are realizing just how difficult it is to get all their product information in order. That's why datasync is still struggling. Without solving the problem of synchronized master data, you won't benefit from any of the technology. It is mostly a process of scrubbing the data and collecting it internally. At some point the process will be done, and we will have something. That is the moment that datasync between trading partners will take off... for the retail marketplace. But other industries have not even begun the process.

As for EDI, more companies will get this kind of link to do business. It may be X12, XML, or a hybrid. My guess is that they will move more to the industry standards and increase the volume of data altogether. We are only scratching the surface of what could take place. When we fully engage the small and medium sized enterprises like lots of companies want to, then the volumes will grow even more.

Companies are trying to get a grip on their supply chains. They are centralizing and getting bigger, having control over the whole process from manufacturing through consumption. Companies are trying to buy up or creating consortia to control the supply chain in order to offer the lowest prices.

The main goal is to control the supply chain and eliminate leakage. As in the Wal-Mart example, "get them in the door and never let them leave." They do that by diversifying and adding more products so customers can find everything in one place. Links and interoperability with vendors are critical to this strategy.

eC-BP - What is your opinion of the eC-BP Tenets?

Raman - As for testing fees, someone has to pick up the expense for testing, and there may be significant work involved in some cases. Mandating particular providers is simply against open business practices, and the market should work against those practices. As a company, we support open connectivity. Any business information exchange should be based on standards.

I think we are long past the era of fax and paper documents. e-Commerce should be 'electronic."

With regard to realistic time frames, that could be interpreted in two ways; either being pushed too quickly, or setting too lax a schedule. If the implementation is adhering to industry standards, then implementations shouldn't take too much time.

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