WebSphere's Latest Offering

The biggest trend in middleware today is integration and that's the direction I see IBM headed. Its WebSphere Commerce Suite software for e-markets allows buyers and sellers to transact in real time, and to integrate the flow of materials, finished goods and services. The product's newest addition, WebSphere Marketplace Edition, goes one step further. As a Net Market Maker, it matches up buyers and sellers in real time.

Formerly known as IBM Net.Commerce, the WebSphere Commerce Suite builds on existing functionality, adding critical business-to-business trading hub components. Those components enable functions essential to e-commerce success—the ability to connect to back-end systems, to trading partner systems, and to other e-marketplaces.

Simply put, customers who have safely secured their place on the Internet, now realize they need to integrate e-commerce transactions with their base business data and applications.

IBM has responded to this second phase by adding applications such as DB2 Universal Database, WebSphere Application Server, MQ Series and Lotus Domino support. Together, they're being packaged as IBM's “integrated e-commerce solution,” and they promise such business-to-business services as catalog and storefront creation, merchandising, payment processing and relationship marketing. They also promise to do so while integrating existing legacy systems and disparate business processes—remember, e-business is much more than creating a great Web site!

It's a tall order and a significant challenge, but IBM is going all out to deliver this important requirement.

Dataquest projects that a full $2.7 trillion will be exchanged through the e-marketplace by the year 2004. That translates to 2.6 percent of all worldwide sales transactions. It also points the way to millions of online buyer-seller transactions every day. The Net Market Makers who help broker such transactions may steer up to $57 billion in product and process cost savings by 2003, according to the Internet Business to Business report.

Of course, we know that recognizing e-marketplace opportunities isn't new to IBM. Although the extent of its achievement hasn't been publicized very much to date, IBM has run $1 billion in transactions through an electronics-component trading hub in Singapore. Clearly, Big Blue isn't trying to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it recognizes that the e-marketplace continues to offer new, exploding opportunities.

If, indeed, IBM is an industry leader in the middleware integration space, it has achieved this, in part, by employing the notion of “coopetition.” IBM currently has more than 1,000 Certified Business Partners that help to round out its services and offerings. Many of these vendors are competitors in some way, but partners in the e-marketplace arena. And together, they're all making product announcements in this fast moving space.

What else is driving WebSphere's success? For one, the product is based on an open industry-standard architecture—XML and Java technologies. The result is a framework that's robust, flexible and scaleable, all increasingly important requirements among the e-commerce community.

Many other high-tech companies are leaping into the e-commerce space, launching products that promise to provide the same services. Competitors such as BEA and iPlanet are coming out with their own integration offerings, as are Microsoft, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard and BroadVision, to name but a few. But IBM's product appears to be the most scalable so far. Companies as diverse as Sara Lee, Goodyear, Motorola and Sony Electronics now use WebSphere as the platform for their B-to-B strategies.

The occasional cynic, who’s probably heard claims before about the next “killer app” coming down the pike, won’t surprise me. We've all heard hype before, but it's important to see past that, and IBM, for one, has never needed to employ smoke and mirror tactics.

As the field becomes increasingly crowded, many industry analysts, including yours truly, expect a shake out, or fall-out to occur. And if it does, those providers that truly offer integration and scalability will most likely survive. One thing seems sure: With its latest launch of WebSphere Marketplace Edition, IBM has raised the bar in the B-to-B e-marketplace.

Sam Albert is president of Sam Albert Associates (Scarsdale, N.Y.), a firm specializing in developing strategic corporate relationships. samalbert@samalbert.com

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