PartnerCommerce Tightens Turnaround

IBM has big plans to automate and integrate its Business Partner product acquisition and fulfillment process by the end of April. Through its PartnerCommerce/QuickShip and PartnerCommerce/Server applications IBM plans to provide a unified Web-based fulfillment system in which all transactions are performed electronically, including order entry and status tracking.

While the immediate benefits of the new, Web-based PartnerCommerce systems are targeted at the IBM Business Partner channel, time and cost savings will be passed along to end users as well. Automating the procurement process, for example, will also improve the level of service IBM's Business Partners provide to their customers.

In the past, IBM's Business Partners submitted proprietary electronic forms or sent orders by fax. Administrators then had to reenter the orders into a fulfillment system in which pricing and scheduling was done. Orders were fulfilled by the warehouse and tracked on a separate system.

By creating a Web-based fulfillment system in which all transactions are performed electronically, including order entry and status tracking, Business Partners will be able to enter orders via the Web and receive prices and delivery information in a matter of seconds, says Rick Bloyd, IBM's QuickShip manager. This lack of intervention by company staffing facilitates same-day shipping and delivery within 24 or 48 hours.

"We have two tools under the auspices of PartnerCommerce e-commerce tools -- Server and QuickShip," Bloyd explains. Though both PartnerCommerce/Server and PartnerCommerce/QuickShip are being rolled out by IBM on similar schedules, the two programs differ from one another in the products they address.

The Server program is specific to AS/400 and RS/6000 hardware devices. QuickShip, however, provides IBM customers with access to as many as 1,800 different products -- up from 1,000 last year -- in the areas of storage, networking hardware and printers, according to Bloyd. "Product offerings will continue to be added depending upon how the individual products fit in with the program," he says.

QuickShip offers 24-hour order turnaround and three-day delivery, whereas Server is a customized QuickShip program that offers delivery within seven days, according to Bloyd. "Servers take longer to ship because of the level of customization required with each order," he says, adding that the S/390 and Netfinity server lines are not part of PartnerCommerce/Server at this time.

Increased efficiency within the channel is the greatest benefit to end users as both PartnerCommerce programs are made available to first-tier resellers. Resellers can have products shipped directly to the end user through PartnerCommerce, according to Bloyd. "It's a very quick, reliable supply process," he says. "The efficiency both within IBM and its partners should improve. Ultimately, I hope, this will lead to lower prices."

Through the Web-based PartnerCommerce, IBM reduces operating costs for the programs by four times, according to Bloyd. "We also offer Web-based order tracking. This new system eliminates the re-keying of information. We've made tremendous positive strides to give our partners a whole lot simpler way of doing business with IBM."

PartnerCommerce was designed to allow resellers to focus more on selling, rather than the process behind order fulfillment. "With this new, integrated product, systems can be sent to resellers, distributors or directly to end users," Bloyd says. "The quick aspect is expected to eliminate order cancellations."

One veteran of the original QuickShip program is eager to implement the new PartnerCommerce version. "We've been using the Business Partner QuickShip program since it started," says Beatrice Vener, manager of channel operations for Champion Computer Corp. (Boca Raton, Fla.). "We use order forms through IBMLink to place our orders [which are then re-keyed into IBM's Pegasus system]. The way the process exists today, it is on the Web, it's just not as automated as the PartnerCommerce site, which goes directly into IBM's system."

IBM's Pegasus fulfillment system is a real-time order entry and fulfillment application used in the United States for all partners who fulfill products via QuickShip. The system uses MQSeries messaging which allows disparate systems to communicate across multiple platforms.

In 1999, IBM plans to ship more than 200,000 units via PartnerCommerce/QuickShip, enabling the Business Partners the ability do more than 2,500 transactions per month over the Web. "We don't have this capability on the Web yet, but we're moving to have that done by late second quarter," Bloyd says.

"Where QuickShip has really helped us is in reducing our inventory, from about $10 million to about $3 million," Vener says. "Prior to QuickShip, our option was to either stock the product and inventory so we could get it to the customer quickly. [Prior to the availability of PartnerCommerce], if we direct shipped from IBM, orders were taking two-to-three weeks to get to the end user. Now you're looking at more like two-to-three days."

Beatrice adds, "End users benefit the most by quicker turnaround time. They're getting delivery of the product faster."