IBM preps e-commerce software for AS/400

IBM next week will unwrap a new version of its Net.Commerce server for the AS/400 that reportedly provides users with a better soup-to-nuts way to manage their electronic-commerce businesses and makes it easier to set up new sites.

Aimed at both business-to-business and business-to-consumer commerce, Version 3 of the product is more functionally complete, according to company officials. It is also designed so it can be set up more easily by first-time users.

"Version 3 puts it on a functional parity with versions we have on NT, AIX, and Solaris, which makes it easier for corporate users to integrate. But it is also designed so it is easier for new users," said Suzi Shaw Lyons, e-business marketing manger for IBM's AS/400 division, in Somers, New York.

Version 3 includes a new Store Creation Wizard that lets users set up a commerce site with predefined storefront templates. There are also templates that help users set up the appearance, navigation, shopping/buying flow, browsing, registration, method of shipment, and method of payment.

The new version also features improved tools for back-end integration that make it easier for users to integrate their existing legacy applications into server-based applications such as Lotus Domino or SAP's R/3.

Version 3 also features more advanced catalog tools for creating shopping advisors and intelligent search methods to help customers determine a product-selection and purchasing process, officials said.

Additionally, the updated version offers users a more straightforward way to configure connectivity to the collaboration features in Domino, such as e-mail, for processes including as order fulfillment.

Some Internet-commerce analysts are not convinced that the AS/400 has a future as a commerce platform or that the Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) protocol is worthwhile to companies other than IBM because "IBM has more at stake with SET than most other vendors," according to Vernon Keenan, an Internet analyst at KeenanVision, in San Francisco.

"The AS/400 has turned out to be more of a disappointment [because] Unix has really thrashed AS/400 in the e-commerce space," Keenan said. "Users tend to build e-commerce application servers from scratch, rather than leverage existing back office platforms."

In concert, IBM will also announce a stand-alone version of its IBM Payment Server for AS/400. The Payment Server, which has been a standard feature in Net.Commerce, Version 3, uses the SET protocol to handle all aspects of the secure online payment process. The product is expected to ship on June 11, according to company officials.

Available now, Net.Commerce for AS/400, Version 3, is priced starting at $US7,500.

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