White papers are reports written by industry professionals and academics, all of whom are experts in their chosen field, on just about any imaginable topic. In the world of e-commerce, topics often include data management, computer programming, network security, customer service, business-to-business issues, the Internet economy, Web site development, directory services, naming and addressing, enterprise management, frame relay, performance engineering, remote access, routing and switching, voice/data convergence, and more. As part of the in-depth exploration of a subject, white papers may include case studies—real-world examples of how technology works in a business setting, as well as photographs, charts and graphs, and lists of resources (magazine articles, Web sites, other white papers, and the names of industry experts, companies, universities and associations).
White papers are important to companies engaging in e-commerce because they provide details to executives and IT professionals that can be useful when making important business decisions, such as whether to invest heavily in an emerging technology. White papers often provide examples of best practices or e-commerce methods that have proved successful for other companies. Some outline practices to avoid, and others describe what an organization's or expert's position is on a specific issue or hot topic.
In addition to providing useful information to end-users, white papers can be powerful marketing tools for those who write them. They serve as a way to position the author and his or her company as experts in their field, and may lead to lucrative consulting jobs or sales. Although some individual authors or consulting firms charge others to read their white papers, many offer them at no cost for publicity purposes.
White papers can be found on many Web sites. In the early 2000s, Microsoft offered its E-Commerce White Paper Series for free through its Web site. IBM, Sun Microsystems, and many other leading technology companies also offered free white papers on e-commerce. Additionally, white papers can be obtained at technology trade shows and seminars, university libraries, from numerous government agencies, and through online information services, many of which are available at public libraries. eFlash, a service from Lucent Worldwide Services, allowed individuals to subscribe to a service that provided e-mail notices when new white papers were posted on its Web site. While some white papers are available as Web pages, other are quite long and must be downloaded and read with special software, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader.
"White Paper." Tech Encyclopedia, March 6, 2001. Available from www.techweb.com/encyclopedia.