Sterling Commerce Asks: “What Do You Want From Us?”

Quite often, when one company is swallowed up by another, that company loses its identity and competitive focus to its new parent, but not always. Case in point: Following its acquisition by SBC Communications (San Antonio) last February, Sterling Commerce, providers of AS/400-based tools for e-business integration, went to its customers to find out what they expected from the new company.

“We wanted to get the opinions of those who are responsible for their companies' e-business strategy," says Dave Owens, Sterling Commerce director of marketing services. “This survey was for us a way to make sure that we’re going in the right direction.”

As part of its “e-Business Reality Check,” as the study was called, Sterling commissioned more than 150 in-depth interviews with CIOs, executives and IT decision-makers primarily in the manufacturing, retail and distribution markets. Much of what surveyors found confirmed Sterling’s planned strategic direction, according to Owens, although, he says, there were some surprises reported in the results.

One area in which Sterling’s existing business plan was confirmed, according to Owens, was a growing demand for e-business integration. About half the survey participants estimated their companies’ level of systems integration to be at 50 percent or less, and 68 percent listed “integrating internal business processes” as a major e-business need, making it the most-cited business need. The biggest need after internal integration was “integrating processes with external trading partners,” with 60 percent of respondents listing that task as a priority.

“We felt that e-marketplaces were really where we wanted to go,” Owens says. “Integration was certainly the highest priority."

More than a quarter of the respondents currently participate in an e-marketplace, and an additional 25 percent said becoming established in such a community would be a priority in the upcoming year.

The executives who were interviewed also indicated that 65 percent of their companies have been performing electronic transactions with trading partners for at least five years. But only 12 percent are currently conducting more than 75 percent of their transactions electronically and 40 percent conduct less than 25 percent of their business online. About half of those studied predicted that their online transactions would increase significantly in the upcoming year, however.

While the study did find an increase in the use of XML, Owens says results indicated the technology was not being embraced as quickly as had previously been thought. EDI and Web technologies remain the most popular methods for achieving current level of integration.

"For all we hear about XML, we found out it really wasn't that much of a priority," he explains. "I think the adoption will happen, but maybe not as fast as everybody thinks."Owens says that although survey responses did not significantly change Sterling’s basic direction, the activity of getting in touch with customers to see what is on their minds is always valuable. He said Sterling is examining the possibility of conducting more focused studies in the future, to gauge customer responses to specific products, technologies or development strategies.

“I think more people should speak out,” he adds. “Because it gets vendors to think about what works and what doesn’t work so well with their products, or about changing their direction."

Related Information:

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