Raising Your E-Profile
If your company's not on the Internet already and you're not planning an e-commerce solution, you're already far behind the times. The Internet has proven to be the most powerful source of information and will soon be the medium of choice for commerce. E-Commerce sales will reach an all-time high this year and will continue to skyrocket. You can't put a price tag on a medium that allows people from anywhere in the world to place orders directly into your system, any time of the day.
IBM provides two application development suites that can aid you as you build your Internet profile and place your AS/400 on the Internet. These tools are WebSphere and Net.Commerce. Both provide the functionality that you need to exploit your AS/400 and it's strengths, but your audience will determine which one you choose.
WebSphere should be used if you're developing applications that provide business-to-business interaction, such as supply-chain management. It's not well suited to building the "shopping cart" applications that typify business-to-consumer interaction. WebSphere allows you to create unique applications that access information and resources on your AS/400.
WebSphere is an "add-on" for your AS/400 and is used in conjunction with the IBM HTTP Server and provides an additional bridge to the JVM (Java Virtual Machine) from your HTTP Server. It takes advantage of the Java programming language and allows you to incorporate JavaBeans, Enterprise JavaBeans, Java Server Pages (JSPs), Java Servlets, and Java Applets into your Web applications. Without WebSphere, your Web applications are limited to using HTML, Servlets and Applets.With JavaBeans, you can create reusable components that can access your AS/400. These components can be used in multiple places within your applications and in different situations. JSPs are text documents that contain imbedded Java code that is interpreted at run-time. This technology is similar to Microsoft's Active Server Pages (ASP) except that ASP uses VBScript as its scripting language.
Although you could use WebSphere to build pure e-commerce applications, there is a better solution. Net.Commerce allows you to build complex e-commerce applications that incorporate complex pricing schedules. These schedules can be based on prices that end on a certain date, discounted items, and preferred customer prices. This type of framework would be very difficult to implement in a "home-grown" application with something like WebSphere. This type of programming requires a very dedicated staff to create and maintain such complex functionality, which is why you should consider Net.Commerce for your e-commerce applications.
Net.Commerce provides the architectural framework for a shopping cart, registration form, and order form components that can place information into your AS/400 databases or access resources on your AS/400. With this solution, you can customize the pages to give them a look and feel particular to your organization. This tool allows you to create an application in which visitors can purchase products so that you can focus your attention on your core business processes. One of the major advantages of Net.Commerce is that it allows you to tie the new application into your existing database. This lets you keep your existing and proven database and not have to worry about building a new one. By leveraging your existing database you can concentrate on what e-commerce is all about, building a sales channel through the Web.
Internet access will cut communication costs and provide a faster and more accurate interface to customers that need to access information on your AS/400. With Net.Commerce, your customers will place the information directly into your database and ensure that the data is correct, removing many data entry and interpretation errors. WebSphere, on the other hand, allows your company to interact with its employees from anywhere there is an Internet connection and make queries and update information. This can allow your employees to work from home as well as access the information remotely. With both of these products you boost your Internet profile and provide functionality from anywhere in the world.