5. E-Business and E-Commerce
6. Mobile, Wireless, and Pervasive Computing
The semiconductor (or chip) industry is one of the most competitive global industries. The rivalry among Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and the United States is \ufb01erce, and prices are continuously being driven down. When the economy is weak, demand for computers weakens, resulting in price cuts and losses to the chip manufacturers.
One way to survive is to customize products. National Semiconductor Corporation (NSC) (national.com) has over 10,000 products. However, this cre- ates a problem for customers: When they need a chip, customers provide speci- \ufb01cations to several chip manufacturers, collect catalogs and samples from the manufacturers, and then contact them for prices and technical details. This takes a considerable amount of time and effort.
Connectivity problems due to different hardware, software, and communi- cation standards had forced NSC to resort to the telephone, fax, and regular mail to communicate and collaborate with its customers. The communication channels that were available prior to the Internet were either regular telephone lines or private communication lines, both of which were expensive. Electronic data interchange (EDI) was in use, but it was limited to transaction processing and was carried on an expensive value-added network (VAN), so many cus- tomers refused to use it. Transmission of pictures, charts, and diagrams, a ma- jor part of the NSC product catalog, was a very dif\ufb01cult task. NSC found it just too expensive and cumbersome to handle communication and collaboration with customers over its old system.
NSC introduced an innovative solution. The company posts detailed descriptions of its 10,000 products on its corporate portal* (national.com) The portal allows NSC\u2019s customers to access product information 24 hours a day.Browsing through the information, customers are able to download the documents they need. The Web site is also used by the company\u2019s employees to search out information quickly and accurately, and to receive more direct feedback from customers.
NSC\u2019s Web site visitors use a search engine that helps them \ufb01nd a matching product, based on product speci\ufb01cations in the online \u201cKnowledge Base.\u201d It also uses custom software that can extract information from existing databases and automatically format it in theHTML programming language. (HTML helps in preparing documents that appear on the Internet; see Technology Guide 5.) Since 2002, National\u2019s customers also use a sophisticated open system customer interface based on WebMethods integrated platform and B2B standards introduced by RosettaNet. This enables fast search by customers for parts and components.
projects and their requirements, and any other pertinent information. Customers can select the information to be made accessible to NSC. Through the personalized Web sites, NSC delivers the latest product information of in- terest to individual customers. This application is part of the corporatee x t r a n e t system. The arrangement also allows NSC to watch the inventory level of chips at customers\u2019 facilities, and automatically ship products to them when the inventories are low. For example, the Internet links enabled Tektronix Inc. (a major customer) to discontinue paper \ufb01les of past and current inventory parts. Product specifications and availability are automatically updated and linked to Tektronix\u2019s system. This in turn has enabled NSC to reengineer its distribution system.
The search process is supported by an electronic form that is easily \ufb01lled in by customers, and by a menu ofhyperlinks to related products and services. The sys- tem is used both by customers and by NSC engineers. Its bene\ufb01ts are the fol- lowing: reducing the sample-ordering process by days or weeks; expediting the design of new products; increasing the exposure of NSC products by a factor of 10 (customers now download 10 times as many documents as they did using just e-mail); providing more information to customers; providing direct and expedi- tious feedback from customers; increasing quality and productivity; improving the company\u2019s relations with its business partners; and increasing pro\ufb01tability and competitiveness.
The NSC Web site offers design assistants and simulators to guide cus- tomers in designing their products. Using this facility, customers can input their system speci\ufb01cations, \ufb01nd the devices that \ufb01t the speci\ufb01cations, validate design by simulation, and order the required parts. NSC also provides behav- ioral models and software to support the design process. NSC\u2019s design-assistant tool kit was estimated to save National\u2019s design customers $50 million in the \ufb01rst year.
A visit to the site in April 2003 revealed many new features. For example, the analog university provides many online seminars, and there are an online technical journal, an online biweekly newsletter, online research tools, a locator to \ufb01nd the nearest distributors, a list of job openings, and much more. Information is available in several languages.
The Internet solution enables NSC to use electronic catalogs instead of paper ones, thus saving the company typesetting, printing, and mailing expenses. The electronic catalog also can be kept much more current than paper cata- logs could. In addition, customers can view catalogs and download detailed documents in order to analyze products more closely. Large customers get customized catalogs. The e-mail capabilities allow rapid communication between NSC engineers and customers. The site also offers a configuration that helps customers to con\ufb01gure the chips they need. Added software and hardware, such as videoconferencing and screen sharing, let NSC engineers col- laborate with customers electronically, allowing them to work simultaneously on the same documents from different locations. All this is done at a relatively low cost.
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