EC Strategy Promotes Single-Vendor Accountability

Understanding the plan-now-or-pay-later nature of e-commerce, Sterling Commerce Inc. has unveiled a five-point strategy for promoting its products and services. Sterling's strategy addresses a number of areas--extranet management services, community management, business process integration (BPI), e-commerce infrastructure and outsourcing services.

These strategic initiatives will rely upon solutions from Sterling's COMMERCE, CONNECT and GENTRAN product families--as well as a number of services offerings--for implementation.

"Each of the five initiatives, fueled by the adoption of Internet technologies, is a natural extension to our core competency and each represents a significant and fast-growing market," says Warner Blow, president and CEO of Sterling Commerce (Columbus, Ohio). "We are aggressively dedicating resources to establish and maintain leadership in each market and will be making announcements over the next several months in support of these goals."

Sterling Commerce is rapidly transitioning to an Internet company, according to David Kishler, manager of industry relations for the Commerce Services Group of Sterling Commerce. "This is not a one- or two-year plan," he says. "Some of these technologies are already in place, we're simply expanding them for broader audiences. Other components are new and will be initiated through partnerships. You'll see products supporting [Sterling's strategies] rolled out over the next couple of weeks and on into the summer."

While Sterling Commerce's official announcement of a comprehensive e-business-enabling strategy is not likely to be a revelation to a majority of its customers, some of the company's mid-sized customers may appreciate this gesture of single-vendor accountability, according to Chris Selland, VP of Internet computing with The Yankee Group (Boston).

"There are many customers that definitely seem to prefer dealing with as few vendors as possible," Selland says. "Sterling has a pretty wide footprint in terms of e-commerce solutions--particularly after the partnership announcements made at [Sterling's May EC Strategies '99 conference]."

Larger companies looking to implement an e-commerce system to gain a competitive edge generally do not find dealing with multiple vendors prohibitive, as long as they are getting the best products and services for their businesses, according to Selland. "But more conservative, medium-sized companies tend to go more with a company like Sterling that has a number of different products, a wide variety of service offerings and brings a lot to the table. These kinds of companies are willing to trade off a certain amount of best-of-breed--although Sterling may have it in many cases--product in each phase. It's better to have more of a one-stop shopping relationship."

One of the first products to materialize in support of Sterling's corporatewide e-business strategy is GENTRAN Web Suite, a family of Web integration components designed to enable BPI via the Internet. Hailed as the company's framework to accomplish Web integration, GENTRAN Web Suite debuted on Windows NT on June 30 and will be followed by a port to the AS/400 platform later this year.

Sterling Commerce defines BPI as an organization's desire to streamline internal processes, then open up these processes and share them with an external customer and partner community, according to David Evangelisti, director of Web commerce marketing for Sterling Commerce. Through the enablement of BPI, Sterling is looking to support e-business through enterprise application integration, Web integration and traditional EDI.

Many of Sterling's customers still using traditional EDI are looking at ways to establish extranets or explore the possibility of establishing extranets with both their customers and their suppliers, according to Kishler. "This is an excellent time for us to introduce a framework for these companies, to help them make these decisions the right way," he says.

Sterling's strategy represents an expansion of its horizons beyond community management to include the Internet community as well, according to David Winkler, director of product management for Sterling Commerce's COMMERCE family of products. "We think the Internet is going to open up commerce business to larger numbers of companies than ever before," he says. "With community management, traditional EDI can manage maybe a few hundred trading partners effectively. Here we're talking about tens of thousands of trading partners. The goal is to help our customers manage these communities effectively."