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Net Work Boosts Businesses

From Virginia Engineering
December 1, 1996

Commerce on the Internet is in its infancy, but faculty members in computer science have been preparing for years to play a major role in bringing up baby.

"This is a revolutionary year in the development of the Internet for business uses," said Alfred C. Weaver, director of InterCom, a joint venture between the University, Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology, and several commercial partners.

InterCom is among the nation's leaders in designing home pages, where firms can post information about their personnel, products, and services on the Internet. It's also pioneering systems for businesses and individuals who shop on the Net.

"For years the Internet was an electronic data exchange and communications network used only by the military and later by government, industry, and university researchers," said Weaver. "Although new uses such as e-mail and web browsing emerged, there was little commercial use because of government prohibitions. That changed dramatically this year, when private investors built a commercial infrastructure."

Weaver and his InterCom colleagues foresee a huge expansion of trade on the Internet in the next few years. Anyone with access to the Internet can inspect the web page InterCom developed for CIT, at http://www.cit.org/.

From there, you can click on a link that takes you to Virginia Technology Resources' directory of high-tech companies, organized by name, state region, and technology sector.

InterCom's next major developmental project is a web site where businesses can browse suppliers' catalogs, check product descriptions and prices, and order a list of items, all electronically. Weaver said the system should even program in discounts and special prices for a buyer, based on past purchase volume and other data.

"You could almost totally simulate the interaction and the bargaining that often go on between a company and a customer, but rapidly, without paper and with much less personnel required," he said. "It could save enormous amounts of money."

One thorny challenge remains to be solved: how will vendors collect for what they sell on the Internet? Many companies don't pay for their purchases with common credit cards, and buyers who use them are wary of giving out account numbers on the Net, where a sophisticated thief might pick them up. A dozen or more solutions are now under study, ranging from encryption systems to electronic scripts for use only on the Net.

InterCom's business is just starting to build. Recently Weaver and U.Va. faculty members Robert Simoncic, of Computer Science, and Brandt Allen, of the Darden School, spoke to 80 business executives about "Electronic Commerce on the Internet." Several have already called or visited Weaver with projects to discuss.

Original Article | Local Copy


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