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E-business and e-commerce are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, and sometimes they're used to differentiate one vendor's product from another. But the terms are different, and that difference matters to today's companies.

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In both cases, the e stands for "electronic networks" and describes the application of electronic network technology - including Internet and electronic data interchange (EDI) - to improve and change business processes.

E-commerce covers outward-facing processes that touch customers, suppliers and external partners, including sales, marketing, order taking, delivery, customer service, purchasing of raw materials and supplies for production and procurement of indirect operating-expense items, such as office supplies. It involves new business models and the potential to gain new revenue or lose some existing revenue to new competitors.

It's ambitious but relatively easy to implement because it involves only three types of integration: vertical integration of front-end Web site applications to existing transaction systems; cross-business integration of a company with Web sites of customers, suppliers or intermediaries such as Web-based marketplaces; and integration of technology with modestly redesigned processes for order handling, purchasing or customer service.

E-business includes e-commerce but also covers internal processes such as production, inventory management, product development, risk management, finance, knowledge management and human resources. E-business strategy is more complex, more focused on internal processes, and aimed at cost savings and improvements in efficiency, productivity and cost savings.

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