‘The timber industry is being "revolutionised" by the internet, but not without growing pains. Around the world, attempts to trade timber on the net have failed, or not delivered on promised cost savings. Why? Because the timber industry is complex, multi-layered and requires e-commerce strategies that take into account the whole business, not just sales.

From our experience of supplying business software solutions to timber companies, we believe much of the industry is not quite ready for the leap to internet-based transactions. With automation of day-to-day transactions still not pervasive and little standardisation of business practices and terminology across the industry, it is difficult to implement business-to-business e-commerce.

Moreover, in an industry with already tight margins, real savings will come from streamlining information processing – not simply selling items over the internet.

The "e-commerce revolution" must begin with standardisation and automation of business processes. Timber companies must first implement business software to automate back-office functions. This will lay the foundation for broader use of e-commerce.

We are already helping companies use the internet for improved information distribution and automation of processes such as electronic order placement and tracking, delivery notices and invoicing. Global timber leaders are using internet applications to improve information exchange with their remote operations, customers and suppliers. They report increased revenues, more efficient sales and administrative staff, increased stock turnover, and better customer service and responsiveness.

In all cases, effective business software, like our Timber Track, which automates processes and procedures using Microsoft Windows user interface and back-office technology, has been the key to success.

We see e-commerce taking place in three forms today. The first is Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), the demand for which is now higher than ever, as major companies demand suppliers interact with their EDI systems. Legacy EDI systems use private networks and communications protocols, requiring custom Application Program Interfaces. Newer EDI systems use Extensible Markup Language so secure transactions can take place over the internet.

The second application of the internet is in web-based interfaces. Timber companies like Nexfor‘s Norbord Industries have websites where customers can use standard web browsers to access inventory, order and shipping information. This frees up sales personnel for more in-depth customer enquiries.

Finally, internet trading sites or Net Exchanges are an emerging business opportunity where timber products companies can access new markets. We are working closely with leading technology providers to deve-lop this business strategy.’