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Clients registering online are given a PIN which allows them on-screen access to all of Bonhams’ catalogues worldwide, most of them extensively illustrated in colour, all supported by a sophisticated search capability, accessible by sale, lot, subject, date, region, etc. Registered clients can also construct their own lot “directories”, enabling them to track the progress of a particular item or set of items as it moves through the saleroom process, and can leave bids online, an e-mail being sent automatically from the saleroom in confirmation and another after the sale to alert them to the outcome. There is currently no charge to clients registering for these Web services.

Technologists like to refer to these kinds of facilities as examples of “end-to-end integration”, which effectively means that any information fed into the system can be used across a variety of Bonhams’ internal applications in parallel – for commission bids, accounts, Web-site updates, etc. – thereby streamlining their information management.

Despite the media hype surrounding Sotheby’s and Christie’s recent technology announcements, neither firm has yet developed its Web-site in any meaningful way.

Rod Funston, Bonhams’ Director of Information Technologies, sees Bonhams as the first of the ‘big four’ to offer substantial Web benefits to its clients. “This is primarily a way to improve customer service,” he told the Antiques Trade Gazette, “by offering catalogues on the Web in parallel to the printed version.” But don’t expect the traditional catalogue to disappear, however: “There is still no match for a nice printed catalogue with high resolution images,” said Funston, “but there is a benefit in the Web-version too.”

The fact that 1000 people have registered to use Bonhams’ new Web facility since its launch a fortnight ago reveals that already there is a demand for this kind of online service.