ERCIM News No.30 - July 1997

Software Agent Applications in Electronic Commerce

by Roberto Gagliardi

MIA is a user-driven pilot project in which the existing commercial processes of a leading vehicle manufacturing industry are adapted and improved through the application of Information Technology. The industry involved has the dual aims of improving its own internal economics while also providing greater customer satisfaction.

The recent explosive growth of the Internet has had a dramatic effect on business initiatives and has led to the creation of many innovative opportunities. Electronic commerce is effectively a new paradigm which will lead to completely new ways of doing business. The goal of the MIA Pilot Project is to experiment the use of advanced Intelligent Software Agents applied to electronic commerce in the Light Urban Mobility manufacturing industry.

Electronic commerce covers any form of business transaction that is conducted electronically over networks. It encompasses a broad range of activities, of which the core component addresses the commercial transaction cycle. Upstream and downstream of the transactions it also includes the advertising and promotion of products and services, the facilitation of contacts between traders, the provision of market intelligence, pre- and post-sales support. The social and economic impact of the new highly competitive environment is as yet only partially understood. New jobs will surely be created, new services offered, but the effect on the existing labour market is unknown.

In the MIA project, a leading company in the vehicle manufacturing industry, Piaggio of Italy, addresses the new paradigm by applying advanced Information Technologies. The current business practices have already been analysed and areas where change can be introduced determined. These mechanisms can be readily applied to similar industries throughout Europe. The technology being used, ie, Intelligent Software Agents, can help to optimise the time spent in doing menial tasks, leading to an improved return on investment for the industries involved. The pilot will experiment the use of Agents for electronic commerce both within the Commercial Organisation of the User, and also across the Internet.

Analyses of current business processes have shown that numerous parts of the product life-cycle are, in fact, suitable for the introduction of Intelligent Agents. It has been decided to focus the pilot on the User's Strategic Marketing Department.

MIA will thus address the following areas of electronic commerce:

The following objectives have been defined for the MIA pilot:

The use of Intelligent Agents will be applied to all of these objectives. Their successful achievement will contribute to the creation of a better and cleaner customer profile. This profile will facilitate the bringing of production in line with customer needs and also answer the basic questions posed by the marketing department: Who is the customer? and What is he looking for?

In conclusion, the MIA pilot will be a real-world experiment with real players and will verify the application of Agents to real electronic commerce. MIA will not attempt to address issues such as the security problems involved in Internet-based electronic commerce ­ these are outside the scope of the project. It will, however, help provide evidence as to the future direction of electronic commerce, where it is believed that Agents will be a powerful force, establishing the rules of the game. No business, no matter how well established, can afford to ignore this force.

The MIA project will last 18 months with a total effort of 17 person-years involving companies from Italy, Spain and France.

Please contact:
Roberto Gagliardi - CNUCE-CNR
Tel: +39 50 593 259

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