Our page 1 story last week on business-to-business vendor woes may have been a bit harsh, but it was right on the money, in my opinion, and long overdue. The relative newcomers to B2B software development—Ariba, Commerce One, i2 and others—have for too long been playing a smoke-and-mirrors game with IT managers. It has finally caught up with them.
The Big Three are just a few of the many that have been suffering in this slump, but they shouldnt be, since their offerings are just what dot-com-hype-weary IT managers are looking for: a software infrastructure that actually leads to cost savings.
But it hasnt been that easy. Why? In a word, integration. Somewhere along the line, all the promises of seamless integration between enterprise applications inside and outside the corporate firewall fell completely short; projects took too long to complete; cost savings were not being realized.
Its no wonder: The forerunners of the B2B baby boom, namely the ERP giants of SAP, PeopleSoft and others, set the standard for complex, multiyear integration projects. Why would Ariba & Co. think they could do it better and faster?
It has gotten so bad for Ariba that it had to forgo the acquisition of Agile Software, a specialist in collaboration tools. Ariba will still work with Agile, but the lack of tight integration with its own platform puts it further behind in the effort to develop efficient systems for corporations.
Nobody is saying B2B is going the way of Microsofts Bob. There is no question that streamlining procurement and selling processes will solve many of the business worlds ills. But as we learned from the other dot-com failures last year, success may come overnight, but it wont last if the fundamentals are ignored.
To succeed, the B2B players are going to have to learn a few lessons before its too late: Set more reasonable goals, dont promise the world, and what you do promise, deliver in a timely manner. Is that so hard?