IBM integrates e-commerce, portal wares

IBM Corp. Friday announced the release of new software that makes it easier to integrate e-commerce Web sites with portals, enabling enterprises to offer information and transactional capabilities from a single user interface.

Big Blue is providing the integration capabilities between its WebSphere Commerce Suite Pro 5.1 and WebSphere Portal using new "portlets" that add commerce functions, such as online catalogue searches and shopping cart transactions, to the portal. Portlets are small pieces of code that embed content and applications into a portal.

"What portals have been of late is informational," says Ed Harbour, director of WebSphere Commerce. "Now we're making them transactional, too."

Harbour says that enterprises today may be running separate commerce sites for separate divisions within the company, as well as a variety of portals to offer information and collaboration capabilities. What IBM's new software will do, he says, is make an enterprise's online offerings more efficient by putting information, collaboration and transactional capabilities all in one place. This integrated e-commerce portal can then be accessed via a PC or wireless device, Harbour says.

In addition, the commerce-enabled portal can be personalized for separate users so that customers, for example, would not see links to employee resources in their portal view. The portal also includes authentication and authorization security so that user access can be controlled, IBM says.

Whirlpool is using the integrated software to consolidate its Web sites. Jim Haney, vice president of architecture and planning at Whirlpool Corp., says the commerce-enabled portal makes it easier for customers, partners and employees to find the information they need to help them complete efficient transactions.

In addition, he says, Whirlpool will save time and money when updating content and adding functionality because those tasks can all be done from a single point.

Analysts say the integration of commerce functions within a portal is a natural progression and necessary to meet the needs of enterprises that want to consolidate disparate e-commerce Web sites and informational portals.

"The portal is just a great organizing tool," says Shawn Willett, an analyst at Current Analysis Inc. And by integrating it with e-commerce software "instead of just having a portal where people can look at content or maybe do some workflow or collaboration, they can actually perform transactions like ordering a product, checking for inventory or doing a query of a backend system."

IBM is taking a smart step with the integration, but it's not the first, Willett says. He notes vendors such as Art Technology Group Inc., BEA Systems Inc. and Broadvision Inc. also offer some type of commerce functionality within their portals.

Willett would like to see IBM tighten the integration and provide more pre-built templates for commerce functions, but says he expects those improvements will come in future releases.

The software is available now and is priced based on services required. Most companies likely will want a tailored offering, but an entry-level implementation that includes the portlets, installation and integration of the software, and customization would run between $50,000 and $75,000, an IBM spokeswoman says.

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