New Alliance May Help Propel BizTalk Standard
Microsoft Corp.'s e-commerce offerings have done well in the consumer arena, but the company has not been a strong contender in the business-to-business market. Now, the software giant is making moves to strengthen its business-to-business solutions through a series of new offerings and alliances.
Microsoft and several partners recently announced the Microsoft E-Commerce Alliance. The alliance will heavily leverage upcoming Microsoft commerce solutions, including BizTalk Server, which is built around the company's Commerce Interchange Pipeline (CIP) COM-based components, according to Michael Pinckney, e-commerce industry manager at Microsoft.
Members of the alliance include Commerce One (www.commerceone.com), Great Plains Software Inc. (www.greatplains.com), Compaq Computer Corp. , Baan Co. (www.baan.com) and Ernst & Young L.L.P. (www.ey.com), in addition to a number of ISVs, Microsoft Certified Solution Providers (MCSPs), systems integrators and hosting service providers.
Microsoft intends to use the alliance to promote BizTalk as a leading e-commerce industry standard. While BizTalk Server is a Microsoft product, the company is promoting BizTalk as an open standard using XML, says Pinckney. "While BizTalk is being driven very aggressively by Microsoft, it is not owned by Microsoft. It will be an open industry standard, just like XML."
The fledgling e-commerce industry is currently interwoven with a range of alliances and standards initiatives, including Commerce XML (cXML) and the Open Trading Protocol. "All of these initiatives are trying to jockey for some trading standards," says Chuck Shih, research director for electronic commerce and extranet applications at GartnerGroup (www.gartner.com). "We fully expect two or three de facto trading standards for business-to-business transactions to actually take hold over the next couple of years."
The e-commerce market is dominated by IBM's Net.Commerce, Shih points out, even though "IBM has not put forth an initiative quite like BizTalk. I wouldn't be surprised if IBM didn't put together or joined some coalition -- but probably not with Microsoft."
Microsoft has thrown its support behind cXML. The company recently teamed up with Ariba Inc. (www.ariba.com) to work together to integrate cXML with the Microsoft BizTalk framework to define schema for communicating operating resource transactions, such as catalogs and orders. In addition to collaborating on BizTalk and cXML, Ariba and Microsoft plan to work together to implement these e-commerce frameworks into products offered by both companies. Ariba will support the BizTalk framework in Ariba e-commerce solutions, and Microsoft will integrate support for cXML into upcoming releases of Microsoft Commerce Server and BizTalk Server.
With these initiatives, Microsoft hopes to establish a beachhead in the business-to-business market. A recent analysis of leading e-commerce solutions by DocuLabs Inc. (www.doculabs.com) finds that Microsoft’s Commerce Site Server provides a strong merchandising -- or business-to-consumer -- toolkit, but is surpassed by other tools when it comes to buy-side -- or business-to-business -- functionality.
"Microsoft doesn't have any traction or experience in the business-to-business world of e-commerce," Shih agrees. "Site Server is still primarily about putting up a retail store on the Web."
In typical Microsoft style, the company is casting as wide a net as possible to catch all levels of e-commerce customers, from online stores to corporate purchasing departments. "We want to provide e-commerce for everyone," Pinckney says. The company is focusing on enabling solutions in employee self-service in corporate purchasing. Microsoft intends to pick up on its value chain initiative, which involves end-to-end supply chain solutions. When initially announced, the initiative "was more marketing than anything else," Shih says. "It looks like they're getting more serious about business-to- business products."
As part of its recent alliance initiative, Microsoft announced a series of solutions from Baan, OneSoft Corp. (www.onesoft.com), MasterCard International (www.mastercard.com) and Clarus Corp. (www.clarus.com). These companies have developed offerings with MCSPs and systems integrators so that customers can begin deployment of these e-commerce solutions more quickly than was previously possible with the Site Server platform.
In the agreement with MasterCard and Clarus, Microsoft's e-commerce platform is supporting a WebPurchasing program, which ties together buyers and suppliers and is supported by financial institutions. Microsoft's agreement with OneSoft created the OneSoft Certified Commerce Solution Provider (O2CSP) program, which brings together MCSPs, ISVs and ISPs on e-commerce projects. Baan's new E-Enterprise suite of Web-enabled enterprise software applications, built on Site Server Commerce Edition, facilitates supply chain solutions.
"These are early examples of the type of work we can do to create a complete solution," Pinckney says. "This is an alliance of partners that are building solutions on the Microsoft platform. The alliance brings together multiple partners that can create complete solutions that can then be sold and deployed as one-stop solutions -- just like packaged software, except the solution doesn't come in a box, but delivered by a group of partners."