IBM B2B Software Facilitates Transactions

With a focus on integration and collaboration, IBM Tuesday announced new software for the business-to-business market sector.

The software, WebSphere Commerce Business Edition 5.1, focuses primarily on facilitating transactions that require functions such as request for quotes, trading partner agreements and complex order handling.

Working with an independent company, IBM conducted a survey with tens of thousands of its customers to find out what phases of e-commerce they are currently involved in, according to officials.

Based on the results, IBM found that its customers e-commerce initiatives fell into five specific phases: Web publishing, or essentially posting a site on the Web; transacting; internally integrating back-end applications; externally integrating to partners and suppliers; and conducting dynamic e-business.

According to the survey, although about 93 percent of IBMs customers are implementing some form of e-business initiative, approximately 80 percent are only in the first two phases.

The goal with WebSphere Commerce Business 5.1 is to get the bulk of IBMs customers to Phase 3 and 4, integrating inside and outside the enterprise.

To this end, the software supports a number of connectors to back-end systems -- J.D. Edwards & Co. being one example -- that allow customers to more easily integrate their back-end systems and connect externally to IBM.

In addition, because collaboration is also a key initiative, Version 5.1 integrates Lotus Development Corp.s Sametime and Quickplace, allowing buyers and suppliers to negotiate terms and discuss specifics of an order in real time. The software creates a virtual environment where documents can be shared and collaboration can take place, even in the midst of a transaction.

A Business Relationship Manager provides an intuitive, browser-based interface to easily configure and modify business policies and contracts.

An advanced order and inventory management module adds such functions as back order and returns processing, split orders, and ship date confirmations for buyers, while more granular access control allows enterprises to set a hierarchy of access to features.

An enhanced B2B Store model simplifies the process of creating a Web site through a series of templates and pre-established reports, which in turn offer a production-ready sample store -- the idea being that there will be less code incumbent on the customer.

Likewise, IBMs WebSphere Catalog Manager will be soft-bundled as part of the 5.1 offering, making it easier for customers to incorporate e-catalogs.

The B2B Store model supports developers as well, for companies that wish to customize their sites beyond the template version.

IBM also brings to the table global services; the software support taxation by location in real time and 10 languages out of the box.

A developer edition of Version 5.1 will be available Nov. 30. A full production edition will be available Dec. 15.

Pricing is $125,000 per CPU; IBM officials estimate enterprises will need a configuration of about four hardware units. With traditional discounts in place, the total package will run enterprises about $350,000, according to officials.