Low Volume Slows E-payment

Online marketplaces are adding payment services on their own.

E-marketplaces are cutting deals with electronic bill presentment and payment vendors, rather than wait for exchange vendors such as Ariba and Commerce One to add online payment functionality to their offerings.

Customers have been pushing the B2B exchange vendors to add invoice payment capabilities to their procurement software and services. So far, none has delivered.

Ariba in December announced that discussions were under way with BillingZone LLC, an electronic billing presentment and payment vendor [EBPP], to integrate BillingZones service into Aribas Commerce Services Network; Commerce One has not announced plans for EBPP services. And VerticalNet late last year scotched its planned acquisition of SierraCities.com Inc., a provider of transaction funding. However, VerticalNet will work with SierraCities to deliver services.

"Are exchanges looking for solutions? Yes, and its true that theyre looking for it themselves, and not waiting for someone to do it for them," says Avivah Litan, VP at Gartner Group.

Exchange owners and B2B vendors want to drive transaction-based fees, but volume is a problem, says Litan and others. Transaction volumes on most exchanges are so low, that its hardly worth the effort to deploy an EBPP system, which may be why vendors such as Ariba and Commerce One have been dragging their feet.

Still, some exchanges are working to offer online payment. Last week, EBPP vendor Bottomline Technologies Inc. announced that VisualPlex, a visual-care industry exchange led by Bausch & Lomb, is licensing the companys NetTransact and PayBase software. And Bottomline also is working with Citibank to provide its solutions for a major chemical industry exchange, says Brian Hinton, VP of e-Bill services at Bottomline in Aurora, Ill.

"Were working with some of these exchanges, and were getting close to figuring out how it will work," says Hinton.

The main kink is who will integrate the payment system into the myriad back-end accounts-payable systems of an exchanges various participants. Hinton says most exchanges dont want to do the integration work, yet the exchange doesnt want to relinquish its relationship with the customer by giv- ing the payment vendor access to its participants.

What Gartners Litan considers the most successful deployment of EBPP is the GE Global eXchange, which has a billion transactions worth $1 trillion annually. The exchange system is based on home-grown EBPP software developed for GEs internal use, says David Hay, global product manager. "We took ideas from that and brought the system onto the Web, combined it with some EDI payments, and added some glitzy EBPP features."