Helped wanted: B2B expert rallying support for federal e-commerce czar

When it was originally presented last year, President Obama's multi-point technology plan didn't mention anything about increasing e-commerce adoption. Steve Keifer, a VP of with B2B e-commerce solutions provider GXS, noticed. Now he's trying to cement the idea of Obama appointing an e-commerce czar... and he's having some success.


When it was originally presented last year, President Obama's multi-point technology plan included initiatives such as reforming the patent registration system for entrepreneurs, upgrading computer systems in schools, and funding various R&D programs for innovation. But according to Steve Keifer, the plan didn't mention anything about increasing e-commerce adoption.

For this reason, Keifer, a VP of industry and product marketing for GXS , a Gaithersburg, Md.-based provider of B2B e-commerce solutions, is trying to rally support for the idea of Obama appointing an e-commerce czar.

Keifer won the Best Practices Award from the Computing Technology Industry Association ( CompTIA ) in 2007 for his contributions to the B2B e-commerce industry, including "tireless promotion of the industry."

In Keifer's vision, an e-commerce or EDI czar would hold either a cabinet position or other senior-level government position, and would champion the cause of e-commerce. This person could "catalyze the digitation of business processes through the value chain."

Keifer isn’t referring to Obama's proposed chief technology officer (CTO), or even someone who would report to the CTO. Instead, the e-commerce czar would lead the thinking and strategies around public policy for e-commerce.

"It is my understanding that the CTO will be more inward-focused on G2G [government to government] technology integration," explains Keifer. "The e-commerce [role] should be a more outward-focused role looking at industry and public policy—activities that would drive more efficiency in health care, environmental issues, supply chain, and so on."

However, Keifer believes there should be a relation between these two positions because they are both focused on technology.

Anticipated benefits

If such a post was established, Keifer sees multiple benefits for the private sector resultant of increased e-commerce adoption—especially as they relate to the supply chain.

Economy : Increased adoption could bolster U.S. manufacturing competitiveness by improving supply chain efficiency. "It also could facilitate supply chain financing programs for small businesses with cash-flow hurt by the economy, so these businesses could get paid faster," suggests Keifer.

Security : Homeland security procedures could be heightened, especially by improving the performance of the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), another supply chain issue.

Environment : Increased e-commerce adoption could curtail industry's carbon footprint. Possible initiatives include an electronic marketplace for a "cap and trade" system, curtailing commercial building energy usage, green procurement and sourcing, eliminating excess consumer products inventory, and removing paper from the supply chain.

Health care : e-commerce could facilitate reengineering of the health-care system, including electronic health records, electronic prescriptions, e-pedigree, and health-care administration. According to Keifer, such initiatives could drive $75 billion in health-care savings.

Ideally, Keifer sees the role of an e-commerce czar as being a champion and advocate within government and industry.

"The person could put forth recommendations on proposed regulations as a representative from the executive branch to the legislative branch," he explains. That is, the person could act as advisor on Capitol Hill as Congress debates matters of technology-related public policy.

Leading the lineup
So who should be offered the position? According to Keifer, there are a lot of company-neutral groups and industry networks in the U.S., many of which are located in the greater-D.C. area.

"I think there is leadership in these groups that could be considered, as well as [expertise] among the individual technology vendors," he states. "In fact, some of the executives in these organizations have a history of managing government affairs and public policy initiatives, and they are worthy of consideration."

The chances of an e-commerce czar being appointed may not be the long shot that it seems on the surface, but it won’t necessarily happen right away.

"In the first year of his term, Obama will have his hands full," says Keifer, adding that he’s been pleased with the number of blog posts in response to his idea. Among them were comments from Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff, who concluded his response with, "An e-commerce czar is an interesting proposal and should be considered."

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