After a year of studying electronic commerce trends and opportunities on a global scale, a prominent consortium of banking and payment technology companies is taking a new organizational course.
The Global e-Commerce Forum, a 22-company group led by Hewlett-Packard Co. and Electronic Data Systems Corp., has thrown in its lot with the CommerceNet consortium.
The forum, which uses the abbreviation GeCF, will retain its identity and control over educational and research initiatives in such areas as smart cards and digital certificates. But it expects to benefit through interaction with the more diversified CommerceNet, ultimately serving as a specialized arm of that 500-member global body.
There is an element of consolidation in the move, given the proliferation of such consortia with different but overlapping business and cooperation motives. Four GeCF members-EDS, GTE Corp.'s GTE Internetworking unit, Hewlett-Packard, and Wells Fargo & Co.-are also represented on the board of CommerceNet, which can base leadership claims on its membership scope and longevity.
Based in Palo Alto, Calif., CommerceNet was founded in April 1994 and has the allegiance of many banks, telecommunications vendors, Internet service providers, and other types of organizations.
Its president and chief executive officer, Randall C. Whiting, said, "Electronic commerce and financial services are indelibly intertwined" and "combining forces provides a benefit for all our members."
"The CommerceNet-GeCF relationship strengthens the value proposition for both organizations," said Debra Rossi, senior vice president of Wells Fargo Bank, San Francisco. "As members of both, we welcome this alliance."
Other GeCF members include Citibank, Sumitomo Bank of Japan's credit card subsidiary, the MasterCard and Visa associations, and payment processors Paymentech of the United States, NETS of Singapore, and Sistema 4B of Spain.
The CommerceNet connection was officially announced this month during the Bank Administration Institute's Retail Delivery Conference in Las Vegas. That was exactly a year after EDS, Hewlett-Packard, and HP's Verifone Inc. subsidiary announced GeCF's formation.
For its first six months, the group was named First Global Commerce. The name change was meant to avoid confusion with other "First Globals" including some Hewlett-Packard brands.
"GeCF will not only retain its identity, but it remains a self-governing body," said Tom Black, the HP director of business development who serves as GeCF executive director. He shares that title with EDS counterpart David Manion.
GeCF would be a focal point for financial industry activities within CommerceNet, while drawing from the broader CommerceNet membership to do significant cross-industry projects, Mr. Manion said in a recent interview.
In its first year, GeCF launched collaborative research projects, as proposed and funded by members, on the subjects of smart cards, digital certificates, e-commerce education and adoption, and SET-the Secure Electronic Transaction protocol for on-line credit card payments.
EDS and HP-Verifone smart card implementations for London Transport in the United Kingdom and McDonald's in Germany are cited as examples of the fruits of GeCF participation and information-sharing.
"When we originally set up First Global, there was more uncertainty than there is today," said Mr. Black. "There was a desire to track the market as it evolved.
"Today there are more and more sustainable projects taking place, and members are more focused on commercially viable pilots and programs. So the organization has gotten more actively involved in implementations, and the members can draw on each other for a critical mass of skills."
"GeCF is oriented toward the implementation of commercially viable projects," said Verifone president and chief executive officer Robin Abrams. "That serves to drive electronic commerce forward."
Mr. Manion pointed out that GeCF, being truly global, has to avoid the "America-centric" tendency to downplay some of the greater potential displayed by smart cards and electronic commerce in other parts of the world.
"We have competitors and people with philosophical differences in the group, so there is debate as to acceptance of SET, for example," Mr. Black said. "We want the organization to be vibrant and deal with real issues, address them, and find real solutions to keep the tide of e-commerce rising."
"Like any organization, we have to deliver value," Mr. Black added. "What we do depends on contributions of resources from members, and if we are effective we will get those. Becoming part of CommerceNet was something the members believed in."