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Internet Site – The Next Steps (May/Jun-01)
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Sharing Data Between Plastics Business Applications (Sep/Oct-00)
The Evolution of Your Information System - Part IV (Jul/Aug-00)
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The Evolution of Your Information System - Part II (Mar/Apr-00)
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COMPUTER FORUM: Internet Site – The Next Steps
In the last Computer Forum, I talked about getting ready for the Internet, discussing how to align your thinking to let your existing business structure determine your web site’s function and layout. With that general approach in mind, you should be at a point where concrete progress can be made and actual web site design can begin.

The quickest and easiest way to create a web presence is to make your web site simply informational. Let it tell visitors who you are and what you can do for them. Of course, if you want them to be able to interact with you (e.g., place an order, submit a request for a bid) the process begins to get a little more complex. But, more on that later. First let’s establish a web presence.

HTML is the language that programmer use to build a basic web site. Acronyms like this are usually the computer industry’s way of keeping non-computer-industry people confused about the stuff that goes into the software and hardware you have in your computer system. In this case, though, the literal translation is equally cryptic. HTML stands for hyper-text markup language, and, when the source code (the stuff written on the computer screen) is examined without the fog around it, it merely tells the computer when to make your text bold, which text to center on the screen, etc. In other words, how to make your web page look the way you would like it to look. On the screen, it looks kind of like and .

You can add a lot to your site with this language, including pictures of your products and facility, and your logo. I have only discussed basic web site construction to help dispel the myth that web page design requires bats wings, eye of newt and a boiling cauldron to build. The possibilities are endless including adding sound and motion, but keep in mind that they will slow things down considerably for visitors trying to access your site. Because you will probably want more from your web site eventually, I doubt that you will build your own web site. You should probably seek out a competent web designer to assemble that HTML code for you. The magazine and the International Plastics Fabricators Association have relationships with web designers who have packages for advertisers and members respectively. Knowing that you want your site initially to do for your company and thinking about what you would like it to eventually be capable of will help your designer create a base that can be expanded upon later, saving both time and money down the road.

What I think you will want from your business-to-business (B2B) web site, for distributors and suppliers, is a way for your customers to find out what you have in stock and to immediately place an order. For fabricators, prospective customers should be able to submit requests for bids and check lead times. After all, isn’t the idea of a business web page to sell something? A listing of your phone number is always recommended for those who like the human contact available over the phone.

In this increasingly computer savvy world, a lot of people are looking for a way to ‘do it now’, so lets discuss a little more about things to watch out for when going beyond HTML. Ask your web page designer about a better web page design language called extensible-markup language (XML) that combines a lot of what used to be multiple language capability into one web design language. Another term I’m sure you’ve seen in the press is ‘"ire wall". Just like a building is built with a fire wall to prevent a fire on one side from doing damage on the other, a web site fire wall is there to prevent anyone from outside doing damage to your site or your ordering information data files. If your competitors could access your inventory information, they might be tempted to set your inventory to zero or reset your prices so theirs are lower. The fire wall is a security software device that prevents that from happening. Incidentally, those stories about hackers attacking Internet web sites are essentially about the ongoing battle to build a better fire wall.

An additional way to protect your original data is to hide it from your web site. If it is hidden away, it can’t be damaged, right? But then how does the web site know what you have in inventory or when the customers order will be completed? One way to do that is to have your data privately update your web site data on a frequent basis. This technique works as long as you are receiving orders to your web site less frequently than the update is happening. However, if you hope to have the Internet grow your business for you, you should be hoping that the orders placed will increase over time and eventually become comfortable with the data security available in the fire wall and in other techniques being developed for just this purpose.

I welcome your feedback and questions. Managing your computer hardware and software is becoming more and more challenging. My goal is to provide you with the knowledge you need to make informed decisions when it comes to managing your digital data and establishing and maximizing your Internet presence.

For more information, click on the Author Biography link at the top of this page.

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