When it comes to tightly integrated, robust functionality, it is hard to beat SAP R/3, the enterprise-resource-planning (ERP) software system developed by Germany's SAP AG and marketed in the U.S. by SAP America Inc. Having established a dominant position in the large-company market worldwide, SAP is now positioning itself to play a leading role in ushering in the era of electronic commerce over the Internet. Built into the latest version of its R/3 system -- release 3.1 -- is a suite of 25 Internet application components covering a significant slice of the business processes that lend themselves to Internet-based transactions. A number of the components -- including order entry, order status, and available to promise -- are designed to support sales activity in both business-to-business and consumer-to-business markets. The order-entry component, for example, can enable consumers to access a manufacturer's home page on the World Wide Web, view an "electronic catalog" of available products (enhanced with graphics or photos), and place orders after specifying how they want the products configured. A related application would then test the configuration for consistency before creating the order and entering it into the production system. One of the business- to-business components supports Internet-based electronic kanban signals to facilitate JIT delivery from suppliers. An SAP publication cites forecasts for the year 2000 that project a steep rise in the volume of sales transactions over the Internet -- from $200 million in 1995 to somewhere between $70 billion and $200 billion by the turn of the century. And the firm's large-company customers are planning to take advantage of the Internet's potential for electronic commerce, asserts Chris Burton, director of product marketing for SAP America. "They're very serious about it, or we would not have embarked on this initiative. . . . The consumer side is something that is growing, but our customers can add value and reduce their costs by using business-to-business solutions as well." The 25 Internet application components embedded in release 3.1 were developed in consultation with customers, who identified the tools they'd need to implement electronic commerce. These components will reside on a separate R/3 Internet transaction server and will communicate with the R/3 core application system through business application programming interfaces -- known as BAPIs. Benefit: the Internet functions can be linked to the full spectrum of R/3's capabilities. "The release 3.1 Internet components are not just point solutions," emphasizes Burton. "They are real end-to-end business processes that people can use to run their business. It's not just checking order status or whatever, but a complete end-to-end solution." As an example, he cites the available-to-promise component, which a distributor might access over the Internet to determine whether a rush order can be shipped by a certain date. If, due to prior production capacity commitments, the response is "no," then the distributor might "escalate" the request -- using the SAP Business Workflow application -- to a replanning desk or to someone with the power to intervene. The BAPIs, which are compliant with industry standards for open communications, will permit customers to link legacy systems and even competing software packages to R/3. In November, SAP published specifications for 100 BAPIs on its Web site. "We've opened our kimono," says Burton. "With all these published open interfaces, any of our competitors who provide a point solution can snap right on. And our customers can choose the solution that best fits their needs."