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October 11, 2001

University looks at conducting Pitt business over the Internet

While many of the dot.coms have gone bust, buying and selling over the Internet is still booming. According to the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, the number of businesses that can be accessed on the web will surpass 8 million this year.

Should Pitt departments get in on the action?

As part of the University's overall technology strategy, the Provost's office has established the E-Business Resource Group to review proposals and make recommendations for conducting University business over the Internet.

The resource group is a by-product of a Pitt e-business strategy team, which examined business issues associated with the Internet and issued findings and recommendations last December.

In its findings, the strategy team acknowledged that e-business is evolving so quickly that guidelines are preferable to policies and procedures.

The E-Business Resource Group, therefore, is intended to be advisory, according to group member Michael Pavia, project director, Office of Planning and Analysis. "What we want to be seen as, foremost, is a resource for the University community," he said.

Pavia is the contact person for the E-Business Resource Group, which consists of staff from the offices of General Counsel, Financial Information Systems, Budget and Controller, and Planning and Analysis.

The University defines e-business as any activity with all of the following characteristics: an activity involving a web site or web presence that is created on behalf of, or represents, the University, or uses University resources or trademarks, and provides for the sale or purchase of goods or services or the receipt of revenues, including, but not limited to, external sponsorship.

"What are the components of an e-business model? It can seem complex, but we would narrow it down to: 1. the actual web site; 2. encryption and encoding of the data, and 3. the back-end processing," Pavia said. "I would put the issues into three basic categories: legal, business, and technical/security issues."

Examples of e-business proposals include:

* A department is considering conducting a professional seminar. It proposes establishing a web site to advertise the seminar, enroll attendees and collect fees via credit card.

* A department creates a web site designed to post information relative to its primary field of study and is considering external sponsorship for the site.

* A department is considering, for example, conducting water quality tests for other organizations or individuals for a fee. The department would like to establish a web site to collect requests for testing services and to record payment information.

"The athletics web site is a good example," Pavia said. "They wanted to begin selling tickets on-line. That involves some legal issues, in terms of contracts, tax law and business procedures. We made some recommendations about the appropriate back-end accounting methods for how to handle transactions electronically, how to manage data, how to have the proper security — firewalls and secure socket lines — to protect credit-card users and other sensitive material.

"So our role is to take a more global perspective on these proposals. We evaluate them on an individual basis — although there are some common threads — and give guidance," he said.

The e-business review process includes an evaluation of financial and accounting issues, business planning and strategic issues, legal issues, technology issues, research compliance issues and image/reputation of the University issues.

As the central group coordinating e-commerce efforts, the E-Business Resource Group hopes to build a knowledge base of experiences to share with the Pitt community.

The goals are to prevent liabilities, promote efficiencies, share knowledge, remain competitive and, eventually, determine best practices.

"There also are some economies of scale, which we can help with," Pavia said. The University is in a position to use its bargaining power to negotiate savings when there are outside vendors approaching a number of units, he said.

Pavia said only a handful of proposals have come through the resource group to date, but he expects more.

The full text of the e-business strategy working group's findings, guidelines and recommendations can be found at: The document provides checklists and tips for departments that want to conduct e-business. The E-Business Resource Group will respond with an initial evaluation within 14 business days of receiving a proposal, Pavia said.

E-business proposals should be sent by e-mail to Michael Pavia at or via campus mail to 1817 Cathedral of Learning.

–Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 34 Issue 4

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