Alan Naumann: Calico's CEO foretells the driving force behind e-commerce

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As e-commerce continues to evolve, the opportunity to specialize is becoming as broad as the business world itself. One of the many start-ups focusing on e-commerce is Calico, which is about to close a merger with Connect. Calico is focused on sell-side systems for business-to-business e-commerce applications that are used by Dell, Cisco, Best Buy, Merrill Lynch, and Qwest. In an interview with InfoWorld Editor in Chief Michael Vizard, company CEO Alan Naumann talks about what will drive industrial strength e-commerce in the age of mass customization.

InfoWorld: What does Calico focus on in the e-commerce space?

Naumann: We do what's called a "sell-side application," so we help people who want to set up their own Web sites to sell things. That's contrasted with so-called procurement applications from companies such as Ariba and others who are helping people buy things. We're really a multivendor catalog aggregation play that helps people sell complex, high-ticket items. We are not well suited to help people buy books and sweaters online. But if you want to sell a Cisco router, telecommunication services from Qwest, and a server from Dell, we nail that business problem because it involves much more complex business logic.

InfoWorld: Why is this complex?

Naumann: Most businesses don't sell standard products to most other businesses. If they're going to purchase things in high volume, it needs to be tuned to their needs. A Dell customer wants to buy a server that's sized exactly, with the exact number of CPUs, mass storage devices, I/O interconnect, [and] rack storage system, to their needs for that application. They don't want a standard server. The same is true about Cisco's network equipment or Qwest's telecommunication services. Each business wants to be able to help each customer go through all their product offerings and select a basket of goods that's aimed towards their solution. The second thing that's very different about b-to-b [business-to-business] transactions from consumer-type transactions is that the pricing is defined and embodied in terms of a contract. List pricing doesn't exist. Every business wants to negotiate a specific set of business terms and contractual relationships. For b-to-b commerce to work, those contractual relationships have to be modeled and brought to the Web.

InfoWorld: But isn't there a broad number of players already targeting this space?

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