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From small to large…

This B2B tool expands opportunities without emptying your wallet. [Hed]: From small to large… [Dek]: Investing in specific types of business-to-business tools will expand trading opportunities without emptying your wallet. By Maggie Biggs

One of the trickiest things to do is maintain a relationship between your own small business and a larger company. Of course you want the business, but you may have a difficult time adhering to the bigger company’s technology requirements.

For example, many larger companies are investing in Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)- or Extensible Markup Language (XML)-based e-business solutions that automate transactions between companies, but you may not have deep enough pockets or the required personnel.

So what can you do? You may want to opt for basic tools that automate individual portions of business-to-business transactions. For example, Sterling Commerce offers a low-cost solution called eTransaction Manager that allows you to exchange invoices and purchase orders with other businesses by e-mail.

The Sterling Commerce solution is budget-minded at $299. Even though you’ll be charged a per-transaction fee based on the number of transactions you process, those costs are relatively minor when compared against the costs of manually processing invoices and purchase orders.

eTransaction Manager integrates with Microsoft’s Outlook for e-mail exchange. And you can also link it with accounting packages, such as Intuit’s QuickBooks and Peachtree. The company hopes to expand integration to most major accounting products in the near future.

The good news is that you can use eTransaction Manager in an offline mode when working with transactions. And it’s compatible with EDI and XML-based solutions that larger companies use. The bad news is that at the moment, it only works with Microsoft’s Outlook, the Windows platform, and a limited number of accounting packages.

The Sterling solution gives small businesses a hint at the direction to take to enable business-to-business e-commerce without breaking the bank. If you need to do business with larger companies that have EDI- or XML-based solutions, seek out lower cost products or services that support a specific function, such as invoicing. Implement only the solutions you really need in order to exchange information with others.

Contributing Editor Maggie Biggs has more than 15 years of business and IT experience in the financial sector.

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