Little, Big Guys Eye To Eye

Software, services give small suppliers a leg up.

Two developers have new technology that will enable large companies to help their smaller suppliers succeed in e-commerce.

Metiom Inc. and Saqqara Systems Inc. are rolling out software and services that will help smaller companies build their own storefronts and manage online catalogs.

New York-based Metiom last week launched Version 5.0 of its ConnectTrade e-commerce platform, which enables a very large company to set up a network that automates trading with hundreds of suppliers. ConnectTrade 5.0 takes that a step further by letting the large company turn this automated supply chain into an e-marketplace by enabling the suppliers to trade among themselves.

A central feature of the package is a tool that walks suppliers, some of which are small and dont have IT departments, through the building of an online catalog. The Web-based e-Catalog tool provides a wizard that lets suppliers upload Microsoft Corp. Excel spreadsheet data, as well as images and logos, to create their own storefronts in the e-marketplace. e-Catalog also enables suppliers to track and ship their products.

This is different from some other marketplaces in that there is no central catalog; instead, each supplier sets up its own catalog, which can be searched centrally by dynamic agents.

Also new in Version 5.0 is a bid-quote engine and an auction engine for online selling. Late in the first half of next year, Metiom will add engines for payment and logistics.

Metiom hosts the e-marketplace and provides a call center and programs to help small companies take part. Both are marketed with the sponsoring companys brand name. Metiom and the large company that sponsors the e-marketplace split a transaction fee of 4.5 percent to 5 percent. The price for setting up a 7,000-seat system is about $1 million.

Separately, software developer Saqqara is rolling out software that will enable companies to build their own storefronts and create and manage such things as the description, pricing and availability of the products they are selling online.

The San Jose, Calif., company this week is unveiling a new product and enhancements to its Commerce Suite. ContentWorks, an offering targeted at Internet market makers and suppliers in vertical industries, enables users to take disparate bits of product information from multiple sources and put them into an e-commerce-ready content form. That data may include anything from price and service information to information regarding technical and marketing specifications.

Saqqara also is introducing new applications for its Commerce Suite product line, including a solution server designed to help suppliers guide buyers through the procurement process.

A second product, a storefront server, is a package of applications that enables suppliers to implement their own Web sites and enhance their ability to sell products.

Features include the capability to register buyers so that suppliers can more easily personalize their offerings. There is also a shopping cart interchange that allows a buyer using e-procurement products from Ariba Inc. and Commerce One Inc. to access supplier e-catalogs through the e-marketplace interface.

The Saqqara products can be licensed by a supplier or accessed through an application service provider, the latter being particularly attractive to small and midsize suppliers that may lack a strong technological infrastructure.

Chase Manhattan Corp. is using Metioms ConnectTrade for internal purchasing. In January, it will launch the Chase bPurchase e-marketplace, which will enable its 350,000 small- and midsize-business banking customers to purchase office supplies and other goods on the Internet.

Later in the first quarter, the New York company will roll out the ConnectTrade catalog, which will let those same small and medium-size businesses become suppliers in the e-marketplace.

Chase will take the lead in marketing Chase bPurchase because it knows its customers, said Betsy Werley, vice president at But Metiom will provide the technology and templates that can be used to get end users up and running.

"We need to build in the hand-holding to get companies started and to finish their catalogs," Werley said. "It is not just lead them to the tool and they will build it on their own."

Part of the hand-holding will involve adding mechanisms for guaranteeing that suppliers that want to take part are financially sound and meet Chases level-of-service standards.

Chase is not alone. First Union Corp., of Charlotte, N.C., has used Metiom software to set up, a Web portal for its 700,000 small- and midsize-business customers. First Union intends to add trading capabilities the same way that Chase is adding them, Metiom officials said.

Similarly, Lexis-Nexis Group used Metiom software to start the Lexis-Nexis eMarketplace for Legal Professionals. Intuit Inc. in September launched QuickBooks Shopping Source, an e-marketplace for small businesses that use Intuits QuickBooks 2000 accounting software.

While Chase plans to make money on the e-marketplace, Werley sees a value beyond dollars and cents. Chases small-business customers "are interested in doing business on the Internet, so [the e-marketplace] deepens our relationship with them," she said.