At the Bled Conference in 1993, it was argued that ‘EDI Is But One Element of Electronic Commerce’ (Clarke 1993). That paper interpreted electronic commerce “as a means of drawing together a wide range of business support services, including inter-organisational e-mail; directories; trading support systems for commodities, products, customised products and custom-built goods and services; ordering and logistic support systems; settlement support systems; and management information and statistical reporting systems”. This was complemented a few months later by the following: “[Electronic Markets] in the narrow sense can be defined as market places put into action by means of telematics. … EMs in the broader sense may be understood as information systems supporting one or more phases and functions of coordination within market systems” (Schmid 1993, p.3).
This section outlines the various threads of change that occurred during what the authors characterise as the second Phase of EI Research. Underpinning these threads were improvements in networking technologies, and the increasing public availability of the US Internet backbone, which enabled more effective and efficient communications for organisations and technically capable individuals alike. Reflecting these changes, the Bled conference underwent a progressive change of scope and name between 1994 and 1996, with the term ‘Electronic Commerce’ becoming the central theme.
By 1995, the European Commission was in the process of developing policies relating to the stimulation of e-Commerce, legislation to enable it, and funding for research programs. Bled provided Brussels with fertile ground for developing an understanding of the emergent field and achieving contacts with both companies and academics working in the area (Timmers, personal communication, 2012).
By 1995, in parallel with the substantial industry stream, large numbers of scholars were being attracted to the Bled event from throughout the world. A Graduate Student Consortium and a Student ePrototype Bazaar were well-established. The conference’s Research Stream was accordingly formalised, with full refereeing of papers. When a second specialist journal was launched in 1996, the International Journal of Electronic Commerce (IJEC), the Bled Conference was in a strong position to provide a feed of papers to it.
IJEC’s first Editorial put it like this: “Electronic commerce (E-commerce) is sharing business information, maintaining business relationships, and conducting business transactions by means of telecommunications networks. Traditional E-commerce, conducted with the use of information technologies centering on electronic data interchange (EDI) over proprietary value-added networks, is rapidly moving to the Internet. The Internet’s World Wide Web has become the prime driver of contemporary E-commerce. … Among the principal technologies directly enabling modern E-commerce are: computer networking and telecommunications; client/server computing; multimedia (and hypermedia in particular); information retrieval systems; electronic data interchange (EDI); message handling and workflow management systems; groupware and electronic meeting systems; and public-key cryptography. … The set of technologies driving E-commerce is embodied (for a want of a better word) today in the Internet. This conglomerate is a transformational technology that has challenged old assumptions and helped shape new workplaces, organizations, and markets” (Zwass 1996).
This was echoed in EM Editorials: “The global information infrastructure and its current incarnation – the Internet – has the inherent potential of enabling a global marketplace, to which Electronic Product Catalogues also provide a virtual gateway to a company through which customers obtain product information, order goods and services, make payments, access customer support, provide feedback, and participate in other corporate activities, regardless of the time of day or the customers’ whereabouts” (Schmid et al. 1997), and “For over 10 years, the proliferation of electronic markets has been predicted. However, for the most part of this period, the theoretical arguments were convincing but the empirical evidence was not. The emergence of the World Wide Web has profoundly changed that situation: electronic market mechanisms gain more influence and coverage where there have been traditional markets and they emerge even in areas that have not seen markets before” (Klein 1997).
The Bled conference enjoyed special relationships with both journals, and between 1996 and 2005, ten special sections of papers arising from the Bled eConference were published in IJEC complemented by several in EM.
During this Phase, network topologies proliferated, moving beyond one-to-one and m-to-n linkages, and beyond hub-and-spoke networks. Cascading inter-organisational systems emerged in the forms of ‘efficient consumer/customer response’ (ECR) schemes in consumer goods sectors such as clothing and groceries, and in industry supply chains more generally.
The richer set of network topologies enabled more sophisticated inter-organisational (information) systems (IOS/IOIS) to emerge. The inefficiencies inherent in multiple one-to-one IOS, which result in rapidly multiplicative m-n connections, had been recognised during the EDI era, leading to the use of hub-and-spoke schemes. Cascading topologies emerged to support industry value-chains. During the early years, purchasing and marketing applications were the primary focus, but leading organisations were becoming more strategic in their outlook. The early distinction between hierarchies and markets (Malone et al. 1987), fertilised by networking technologies, gave rise to many additional organisational forms, such as strategic networks and clans (Wigand et al. 1997) and loose hierarchies, democracies and internal markets (Malone 2004 – as cited in Wigand 2011, p.11). EM’s first special section on the topic was in 1994. Bled has published 135 papers on various aspects, during 1995 – 98 on IOS generally, but with the focus narrowing to supply chains during 1998 – 2003 and to strategic alliances, business networks and virtual organisations during 2004 – 09.
The additional category of ‘extra-organisational’ systems had been identified some years before (Clarke 1992a). These are necessarily configured differently from IOS, because consumers and small and micro-businesses have limited technical expertise and little or no technical support. The early focus on ATM and EFTPOS networks was quickly over-run, as consumer marketers and advertisers saw the potential of the Web, and the associated Mosaic and then Netscape Web-browsers, to enable what quickly became Business to Consumer (B2C) eCommerce. About 20 Bled papers considered shopping carts. However, most were presented some years after the technology emerged in 1995 – 96 (Clarke 2004) and hence too late to benefit practitioners.
Around the turn of the century, considerable attention was paid to the business models that did or could support new forms of business. Key contributions were made by Timmers, in plenary and industry sessions at Bled in 1996 – 97, and in EM (Timmers 1998 – which is one of the most highly-cited articles in the area), and consolidated in Timmers (2000). The peak period of interest at Bled was in 2002 – 05, and two of the most highly-cited Bled papers are in this area – Osterwalder and Pigneur (2002) and Pateli (2003).
At about the mid-point of this Era, mobile devices were detected by the community as harbouring great prospects. Carlsson and Walden (2012) trace the development path of relevant papers at Bled from 2000 onwards. The Editorial for the first Special Issue on Mobile topics in EM, in 2002, noted that: “wireless innovation is being diffused very differently around the world, due to structural, regulatory and market characteristics, the interplay of user expectations and provider capabilities, and the deployment of innovative technologies” (Rao 2002).
During this phase, strategic IS theory developed rapidly. Much of the literature remained, however, locked into several presumptions that can be seen as naive or self-serving. One was the tenet that control over customers was not only desirable, but also achievable and sustainable. As Malone explains in Wigand (2011, p.13), that presumption was predicated on primitive networking facilities, such as those used by American Hospital Supply in the early 1980s. Another weakness has been the prevalence of the ‘CEO as visionary leader’ mythology, despite ample evidence existing that each decision by an individual organisation is just one small intervention within a complex system, and that significant, sustainable competitive advantage from strategic decisions is uncommon: “The ventures that succeed are those that, through some combination of skills and insight, and – very importantly – luck, get enough things right that they cross some boundary into success” (Malone, in an interview reported in Wigand 2011).
Another widespread presumption has been that strategic measures are necessarily linked to the notion of competitive advantage. Yet, in many contexts, this is clearly incorrect, as in the public sector, and in not-for-profit organisations. Moreover, even in the for-profit sector, many strategic interventions that seek competitive advantage build on collaborative arrangements, including strategic partnerships and common infrastructure, and many strategic interventions are much more valuable to the system as a whole than to the individual organisation.
The mid-to-late 1990s is recognised as having involved an orgy of over-enthusiasm, with a great many ventures based on hope rather than on any recognisable business model or capturable revenue stream: “the widely expected market development [in e-business and its sub-category e-commerce] either did not occur or did not have the impact that was somewhat rashly forecast in the early stages of electronic market developments … [This was followed by] a massive shake-[out] and a period of sober[ed] expectations” (Latzer and Preissl 2005).
In the B2B area, it had been anticipated that new electronic markets would reduce transaction costs, and would feature more openness, more standardisation, and more transparency, and that the result would be a new “ad hoc collaboration of market players” which would greatly reduce the friction inherent in trading. However, “not all of the collaboration concepts worked out the way scientists and practitioners expected. Therefore, about 90 % of the electronic markets of the 1990s disappeared with the downturn of e-business shortly after the year 2000” (Österle et al. 2011, p.1, p.2). Clarke (2001b) identified the dimensions across which corporate procurement varies, and proposed that a taxonomy and contingency theory that reflected these dimensions would avoid the problems of mis-fit that were evident in so many of the failures. Unfortunately the process of weeding out the unfit also did considerable harm to tenable businesses as well. For example, Wigand (2011, p.6) notes that Ariba was almost brought down, but managed to survive, and later flourished.
With adoption lagging well behind the inflated expectations, over 100 papers in Bled considered success and failure factors and impediments to adoption, particularly the cluster of issues associated with trust and reputation. Van der Heijden (2012) focussed on the user acceptance aspects, and reviewed the 30 empirical papers presented at Bled on that topic alone during the period 2001 – 11. Despite the ‘dot.com bust’ in about the year 2000, a bright future was still forecast for eCommerce: “electronic markets will become more relevant as instruments for interorganizational integration. Compared to the integration within companies, the situation in the interorganizational arena may be compared to the early 1970s when information systems were confined to isolated corporate functions” (Zimmermann et al. 2006).
eGovernment progressed through this period, but generally lagged applications in the private sector. Interest at the Bled Conference was significant, although only 35 papers focussed on it – with the peak period during 2004 – 08 – compared with 140 on eCommerce peaking 1996 – 2001, 51 on eMarkets peaking 1998 – 2002, 56 on mCommerce peaking 2002 – 09, and 55 on eMarketing peaking 2003 – 11 (Clarke 2012, p. 26). The Editorial in an EM Special Issue put it this way: “most governments have not offered public digital self-service to the same degree [as e-commerce applications such as net banking, e-ticketing and e-shopping] and the public digital services that have been introduced are generally used to a lesser degree than private services” (Pedersen et al. 2006).
To the extent that intellectual underpinnings existed for the profligate practices of the second half of the 1990s, they were reflected in Kelly (1998), Shapiro and Varian (1999) and Levine et al. (2000). Kelly and Levine et al. were excited stories of revolution, whereas Shapiro & Varian demonstrated how the new world was analysable, explainable and even predictable, by applying tools from information economics rather than from limited-resource economics. Shapiro & Varian was deeply rooted in the US business school philosophy of business domination of consumers, whereas the other two publications argued for a much less manipulative approach to electronic interactions between organisations and individuals.
In the same manner as for EDI, an investigation was undertaken of eCommerce publications catalogued by Google Scholar. It identifies close to 200 publications with in excess of 100 citations – 23 books, 144 journal articles and 20 conference papers. All of the papers were published during the period 1996 – 2008, but only 15 % of them in the decisive period 1996 –2000, when early adopters were looking for information. All of the 15 publications with more than 1,000 citations were published in the period 1999 – 2004. As in the EDI Era, the big majority appeared too late to make significant contributions to practice.
The results in relation to both EDI and eCommerce suggest that the purpose of academic publications has only a little to do with communication to business and government, and a lot more to do with communications among researchers. However, an inspection of citations of more specific terms suggests that some qualification to that disappointing conclusion may be needed. For example, there have been substantial numbers of well-cited publications on mobile commerce from 2000 onwards.
For 9 years, from 1996 – 2004, the conference matured along with the burgeoning field, and researchers had no difficulty finding interesting companies, sectors and systems to study. This section has applied the term eBusiness to the Era, in order to encompass the many areas of development that did not involve the trading of goods and services. But, by the middle of the first decade of the new century, a second major scope change was taking place.