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In this paper, motivated by the recent maturing of Semantic Web technologies, we have developed a conceptual model for e-Negotiation and proposed a pragmatic methodology for e-Negotiation processes formation with the help of ontologies. In particular, we have shown how the elicitation of negotiation issues, tradeoff, and alternatives can be streamlined. We further develop a novel way for the elicitation of dependencies among negotiation issues so that negotiators can focus on tradeoff among inter-related issues, instead of arguing about single issues. Observing the logical order across different groups of issues, we can thus formulate an effective negotiation plan with tradeoff support. By mapping issues onto concepts of agreed ontologies, negotiators can control the openness of issues and our algorithm verifies the completeness of elicited negotiation requirements. We have also built a negotiation support system with the support of issue dependencies to demonstrate the feasibility of our approach, and we are now enhancing it with ontology support.
Through our proposed negotiation support mechanisms, negotiation processes are properly guided, recorded, and managed. It also helps simplify the communication messages required across organizations during negotiation activities. Although this could be a serious limitation to general bargaining activities such as political and governmental negotiations, e-commerce activities are usually more structural and repeatable, thereby fitting well into our assumptions. In additional, tradition manual negotiation processes can neither support automation of negotiation (such as through software agents) nor effective integration with Enterprise Information Systems (EIS).
As the participants of e-marketplaces often have to evaluate a large number of offers with different options while they are updated frequently of the market news about substitutive products, ontologies help them better understand the offers as well as evaluate and specify their preferences in a stepwise manner.
Most of the tasks in the pre-negotiation phase of our negotiation methodology can be prepared by e-marketplace administrators based on policies and requirements of the e-Marketplace. Ontologies are specified with reference to relevant industry domains for different categories of products or services. At the same time, common issues and criteria for negotiation can be identified with the typical requirements of the target users. Sample negotiation plans can therefore be formulated are then stored in a repository and available for reuse and user adaptation. Therefore, users of a well-managed e-Marketplace not only enjoy convenience but also the pre-programmed knowledge thus obtained.
Further, the negotiation plan (as shown in Fig. 4) comprising a partitioning of the problem facilitates the tradeoff evaluation of complex negotiation issues to be partitioned into separate concerns, each of which may be taken care by an individual group in a large enterprise. For instance, the tradeoff evaluation of (i) payment terms and deposit, and (ii) freight and insurance can be taken care of, respectively, by the purchase department and logistics department of the same enterprise. As such, matching roles or individuals in an enterprise to negotiation tasks can be supported as a higher level separate layer upon the negotiation processes. With the integration of the NSS into enterprise information systems (EIS) or workflow management systems (WFMS) (Chiu et al. 1999, 2001), complicated tradeoff evaluation processes with reference to distributed enterprise data can be streamlined. In addition, management and matchmaking of roles within an organization to negotiation tasks can be taken care by algorithms and methodologies developed for workflow management (Chiu et al. 1999). This is an important direction to be worked out in our continuing research.
We further perceive that our proposed highly modular eNSS engine can be plugged into different types of existing e-Marketplaces to enhance their capabilities. In this way, negotiation can be streamlined in a semantic service grid (Gentzsch 2002) consisting of end-users, e-Marketplaces, and enterprises, with our ontology based negotiation methodology. Sophisticated decision support and knowledge capturing related to negotiation can be facilitated with ample opportunities for review, reuse, and improvements.
This work can be expanded in several directions. From real-life practices, we discover that negotiation sometimes involves classification rules rather than just offers and counter-offers of alternatives. This occurs when negotiator(s) have no alternative for such issues because this is already pre-determined or constrained by other factors that are not changeable. For example, in a sale negotiation, a seller requests the goods to be considered “Hong Kong made” in order to enjoy certain tariff quota. Negotiation of this definition may be argued on the percentage of added-value in the goods’ manufacturing process that takes place in Hong Kong. Similar negotiations may also occur when classification rules have ambiguities and incompleteness.
In this paper, we have only discussed the scenario of one-to-one (two parties) negotiation of contract. We are currently investigating other scenarios of one-to-many (more than two parties at one time) negotiation of contracts. On the other hand, we are looking into further issues of e-Marketplaces, especially those related to mobile clients (Chiu et al. 2003) and constraint-based negotiation (Chiu et al. 2004).
The work described in this paper was supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (Project No. HKUST6170/03E).
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