Services Evolve e-Business Toward Enterprise Integration

IBM Global Services took its e-business initiatives further along their evolutionary path at Spring Internet World '99 in Los Angeles, announcing a number of new service and software offerings designed to better integrate e-business within the enterprise.

According to Neil Isford, VP of electronic commerce for IBM Global Services, standalone e-commerce projects fail to add much value to the enterprise until they are tied back into existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and supply chain processes. "As these e-commerce sites get bigger and more mission-critical, and it's a real-time interaction with customers, performance and reliability become absolutely paramount," he says.

Integration is the key thread connecting all components of the offerings, which include: the new IBM e-business Accelerator service; a return on Web investment offering; Commerce Integrator software; proactive and predictive Web site design services; and skills transformation services.

The e-business Accelerator service is a Web-delivered service that targets smaller businesses, according to Isford. Accelerator is broken down into three distinct packages -- Explore, Examine and Engage -- with pricing for these different packages based on an as-needed or annual-fee basis.

The Explore package is designed to guide a company's e-business development in a manner that can be conducted at the individual user's own pace. Components include: overviews of e-business trends and major issues; "best practice" highlights and case studies; expert recommendations to Web sites and other e-business resources; a glossary of e-business terms; a repository of e-business expert interviews; and proactive notification of content updates.

The Examine package was created to augment a company's existing e-business assets and provide competitive analysis. Components include the contents of the Explore package, plus: a review of a company's relative position with a "competitive snapshot" by IBM's e-business experts; automated ongoing tracking of competitors' Web sites with "competitive watch;" and an e-business seminar.

The Engage package makes use of IBM's experience in the area of e-business to extend a company's e-business initiatives. Components include the contents of the Examine package, plus: an e-business "methodology checklist," designed to provide a foundation for planning; a self-customized system analysis of a product's and/or a service's Web-selling potential and of the company's security environments; an audit of a company's Web site with a "Web site assessment" tool; and on-demand consultant access to individual answers to specific e-business questions.

Return on Web Investment consulting services is delivered by IBM experts to help customers figure out the return on Web investment, and develop ways to actually measure this return, according to Isford.

Commerce Integrator is a software package that links a user's Web site to more than 35 different platforms, including ERP systems. The Integrator works as an optional feature for IBM's Net.Commerce, integrating that product back into enterprise systems. The goal of implementing Commerce Integrator is to increase return on investment while improving the efficiency of core business processes such as fulfillment, logistics and customer service.

The proactive and predictive services also announced by IBM are designed to address the architecture of a Web site, providing performance and capacity modeling. In addition, Global Services will assist in testing the application, software, hardware and network in a way that simulates the live environment.

"We announced a continuum of service offerings focused on e-business, primarily e-commerce, that will allow you to do all the modeling and stress testing to build and run a reliable, available and scalable system," says Towney Kennard, VP of Enablement Services for IBM Global Services.

Skills Transformation Services are designed to help IT departments develop skills needed to speed a company's transition to e-business. IBM first conducts a skills assessment engagement to uncover skill gaps, and then creates a customized training plan synchronized with the company's e-business application development project.

While the lion's share of IBM's e-business announcement is platform agnostic, Kennard is quick to point out the need to support e-business initiatives with an extremely reliable backend platform. "We are seeing a lot of customers who have put up sites on less-expensive, entry-level platforms, and who are now having to rethink that thought process and are having to go to more reliable platforms where availability is 99.9 percent rather than 92 percent," he says.