B2B Leaders Turn to Collaboration

Though three erstwhile leaders in the business-to-business arena have been bloodied by the souring economy and dying dot-coms, all are forging ahead with new software to revitalize their platforms. Commerce One, Ariba and i2 Technologies are readying coll

Though three erstwhile leaders in the business-to-business arena have been bloodied by the souring economy and dying dot-coms, all are forging ahead with new software to revitalize their platforms. Commerce One Inc., Ariba Inc. and i2 Technologies Inc. are readying collaboration software that attempts to make electronic transactions more akin to face-to-face negotiations.

Commerce One is planning to deliver a suite of collaboration applications, revamp each of its software offerings, retool the companys core architecture and delve into Web services over the next 12 months, said CEO Mark Hoffman, in Pleasanton, Calif.

The new collaboration suite, expected by the first quarter of next year, will have strategic sourcing and procurement functionalities.

Collaboration enables individual buyers and sellers to interact in an electronic forum rather than just exchange documents. A collaborative sourcing application would differ from Commerce Ones auctioning features by letting purchasing managers and sales representatives interact.

"What we are doing is building apps that tie into the collaborative infrastructure," Hoffman said. "We are building on a collaborative architecture, taking it to the next generation, which is Web services—all with the capability of being tied into [Commerce Ones] Global Trading Network."

Ariba, in Sunnyvale, Calif., plans to broaden its footprint in the next 12 months with offerings that help customers expand on Aribas Spend Management strategy. New capabilities in the Spend Management applications will allow buyers and sellers to more effectively share information on items such as inventories, officials said.

Some Ariba functions can already be offered as Web services, according to officials. Ariba plans to upgrade, by mid-2002, all its applications that arent already compatible with Java 2 Enterprise Edition to that standard. Officials said they will not support Microsoft Corp.s .Net architecture for Web services unless customer demand rises.

Union Bank of California, a subsidiary of Union Bank Corp., is beta testing Aribas value chain extension for contracts. Cindy Morrell, vice president of e-procurement at the San Francisco bank, said the Ariba tools give her the flexibility to use traditional blanket price orders, tiered pricing agreements and master-supplier agreements when dealing with vendors.

That new application allows collaboration among these functions and the Ariba Buyer procurement platform. The company is also evaluating Aribas collaborative applications, including sourcing, contracts and invoicing.

"Were able to address those other areas, which a traditional requisition or purchase order doesnt necessarily address," Morrell said.

i2 Technologies is also making strides on the collaboration front. This week, the Dallas company will announce new collaboration functions for its i2 Version 5.2 platform.

New capabilities include execution management, improved alerts, enhanced integration with planning systems and the capability to collaborate with a trading partners suppliers.

For the longer term, i2 is developing a collaboration hub to enable customers to standardize their business processes across and outside the enterprise.

The hub will also enable users to synchronize exception handling and other types of data with partners and suppliers. While some components of that hub are available now, officials would not say how long it will take for the entire package to be available.

Despite the hard financial times for the trio, they still have a large market presence; even so, some potential customers are looking for software from developers that have more experience with collaboration software.

When planning to add new collaboration components, packaged goods e-market Transora Inc. recently chose Syncra Systems Inc., a collaboration software maker based in Waltham, Mass.

The decision was made despite the fact that the primary exchange is built on Ariba and i2 software.

"It helps to understand the space," said Dan Van Hammond, operations leader for retail services at Chicago-based Transora. "We found probably 30 percent of the tools that are out there actually had taken the time to build according to business needs. But the development was not as far along in some cases."