Attendees at the SAE 2000 World Congress next week will hear the letter 'E' used much more often as a prefix than they did last year.
The annual convention has begun in earnest to attract companies that provide computer services, and those companies make up a large share of new exhibitors this year, according to David Schwartz, a spokesman for the Society of Automotive Engineers Inc.
For the first time, the convention will include an Automotive Computer Technology Showcase, an exhibition space devoted to computer hardware, software and services providers - many of them with some connection to the Internet and e-commerce.
This foothold signifies a departure from the convention's traditional lineup of exhibitors touting vehicle components and systems.
By offering this space, SAE is confirming the growing importance of business-to-business e-commerce within the auto supply chain, said Neil De Koker, managing director of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association in Troy, Mich.
'You have to be in the present to have a good show, and SAE is aware that the Internet is dramatically increasing its role in the business world,' De Koker said.
'The potential for improved efficiencies within our industry through b-to-b (business-to-business) e-commerce is phenomenal.'
New kids on the block
The computer technology showcase area was allotted 25 exhibition spaces, Schwartz said. As of last week, 21 were taken. Several of those exhibitors, such as e-commerce enabler NetVendor Inc. of Atlanta and online auction marketplace FreeMarkets Inc. of Pittsburgh, offer some type of e-commerce services.
NetVendor and FreeMarkets are first-time exhibitors at the convention. FreeMarkets also is the solo sponsor of the Automotive Computer Technology Showcase. For both companies, the large cross-section of auto industry people who attend the convention represents a large untapped market.
FreeMarkets' online auction has provided an outlet for the sale of industrial parts, raw materials, commodities and services in more than 70 product categories, including injection-molded plastic parts, metals fabrications and other custom materials that are used to make automobiles.
Like FreeMarkets, NetVendor also will promote an online trading site.
NetVendor's SurplusBIN.com, specializes in helping suppliers buy and sell excess inventory on the Web. The site includes a large automotive section, dubbed AutopartsBIN.com.
Role of the Internet
At the convention, NetVendor will showcase its 'e-channel offerings,' including E.MBRACE, a set of applications that enable companies to conduct business-to-business transactions over the Internet.
'E.MBRACE is designed to allow you to utilize the Internet to manage all those day-to-day activities that you do with various buyers,' said NetVendor CEO Sean McCloskey. With E.MBRACE, those buyers, for example, might be able to go online and click through an industrial catalog, look at a CAD drawing, place an order, view order status information, track the products that were shipped to them or get in touch with a customer-service representative.
In January, the company formed an alliance with IBM Corp. of Armonk, N.Y., to market NetVendor's E.MBRACE with IBM hardware and software - essentially all the goods a company might need to be e-enabled.
NetVendor also helps train clients and their buyers.
NetVendor typically caters to Tier 2, 3 and 4 suppliers in the industrial, electronic and automotive markets, and the aftermarket.
McCloskey estimates that the number of these suppliers that are fully e-commerce capable is probably pretty low. But their interest level, he believes, is much higher.
Part of that interest has been spurred by automakers that are delving deeper into business-to-business e-commerce. Last November, for example, General Motors introduced GM TradeXchange, a virtual marketplace where GM and its suppliers can buy and sell goods ranging from factory equipment to office supplies. Also in November, Ford Motor Co. announced a similar program, called AutoXchange.