WebSphere Marketplace Opens B-to-B to Wireless

It’s been a busy year thus far for IBM, especially in the red-hot wireless and embedded Internet appliance spaces. In mid-May, Big Blue took the wraps off its WebSphere Commerce Suite, Marketplace Edition, a software platform that promises to open up the business-to-business (B-to-B) arena to wireless devices and to other Internet appliances.

WebSphere Commerce Suite, Marketplace Edition is the latest in a series of products launched by IBM as part of its strategy to build bridges from many of its core applications platforms to the wireless and Internet appliance spaces. In February, for example, Big Blue took the wraps off its WebSphere Transcoding Publisher, software middleware that dynamically translates Web information into formats readable by a variety of wireless and embedded Internet devices.

Market research firm IDC forecasts that the worldwide market for appliance servers will mushroom from $1 billion in 1999 to more than $11 billion by 2004.
IBM has good reason to reach out to the wireless and embedded Internet appliance arenas. While many market research firms currently peg both markets at under $1 billion in annual revenue, some analysts maintain that as Internet devices become more pervasive—and as big names such as IBM continue to jump into the fray—the market for embedded Internet-capable devices could potentially explode.

Market research firm and consultancy GartnerGroup (Stamford, Conn.), among others, projects that 70 percent of new cellular phones and 80 percent of personal digital assistants (PDAs) will provide Internet access capabilities by 2004. Similarly, market research firm IDC (Framingham, Mass.) forecasts that the worldwide market for appliance servers will mushroom from $1 billion in 1999 to more than $11 billion by 2004.

Similarly, says Ed Kilroy, general manager of electronic commerce software with IBM, the growing importance of B-to-B will open up additional new “e-marketplaces”—many of which will be enabled by Internet-capable wireless devices.

"This year alone, hundreds of new e-marketplaces will emerge, changing the way business is done in some of the largest and most traditional industries in the world,” Kilroy maintains. “This new wave has the potential to fully leverage the Internet's inherent potential for creating truly dynamic, interactive communities and marketplaces that are exchanging business critical information—from virtually any device.”

As a result, WebSphere Commerce Suite, Marketplace Edition’s support for wireless devices and for Internet appliances constitutes only one aspect of its overall story. According to IBM, it also provides many of the functions and tools that IT organizations need to build so-called “e-marketplaces,” including integrated RFP/RFQ capabilities and support for auctions and dynamic modeling.

Other amenities specifically designed for the B-to-B e-marketplace include integrated business intelligence features, an aggregated catalog, and secure membership registration and access control management. IBM officials also tout WebSphere Commerce Suite, Marketplace Edition’s ability to integrate with the Sametime collaborative environment from Lotus Development Corp., which can enable both buyers and sellers to communicate in real time, online in the exchange of goods and services.

IBM may be taking the wraps off of its B-to-B-friendly WebSphere entry at just the right time. According to another GartnerGroup study, over 400 online trading markets have already been launched through the first half of 2000; Gartner expects that number to mushroom to more than 10,000 e-marketplaces over the next two years.

At that time, many experts suggest that wireless and embedded Internet appliances will constitute the bulk of the devices that access Internet services. Consequently, says Martin Marshall, a research director with market research firm Zona Research (Redwood City, Calif.), IBM’s emphasis on enabling its applications platforms to serve wireless and embedded Internet appliances could help to position it as a player in a potentially lucrative market segment.

“Sometime next year, there will be more wireless devices accessing Internet services than PCs,” Marshall maintains. “And IBM appears to be taking the necessary steps to become an important player in the game.”

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