Use Web tools to increase profits

In the course of covering e-commerce and e-business solutions, I find most vendors of late are busy delivering what businesses need just to get by and catching up to marketplace demands rather than building inspiring tools that will help businesses succeed through innovation.

Nevertheless, there have been a few standouts worth mentioning. In no particular order, here are my top five picks.

On the platform battlefield, I find endorsement-quality mettle coming from IBM's camp. IBM WebSphere Commerce Suite has emerged, after some floundering, as a solid application server platform with tight middleware integration technologies in tow.

IBM has clarified its commerce vision by embracing Java and turning its attention toward the still-profitable business-to-business market without abandoning its consumer-facing applications.

Although WebSphere supports only its own application server, it is simply the best, all-inclusive, Java-based platform going. With solid tools for global business, marketing, merchandising, and personalisation add-ons, I have to pick this as one of the five most impressive products I've seen this year.

Furthermore, IBM's plan to enhance WebSphere's business-intelligence capabilities, wireless support, workflow and process management tools (such as the Business Components Composer), and embedded support for Web services standards puts IBM atop my watch list.

Web services technology ranks as the most important interoperability innovation to come down the pike, despite the fact that it got off to a slow start.

As Web services develop, flexible access to applications and services will provide businesses with an easier means of integrating applications, thereby eliminating many of the prearranged requisites currently demanded. The result will shave months off development time, enable businesses to improve revenue through services-for-hire models, and reduce IT competency requirements.

I particularly like the direction Hewlett-Packard is taking with its e-Speak A.3.1.1 and NetactionWeb services platform, an alternate framework from the now-prevalent forerunner sired by the likes of Microsoft and IBM.

HP had a jump start in developing the Web services field but lost control of the reins when it fell behind in adopting standards burgeoning beyond its own inventive walls. With this release of e-Speak, HP proves it remains a strong contender in the space.

HP has done a good job integrating standards such as SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration) into its framework, which will go a long way toward promoting acceptance. In terms of security, it is also among the strongest implementation currently available.

For companies with a finite number of partners and vendors, private exchanges can make it easier and more affordable to integrate back-end processes without re-engineering the entire business process to comply with consortium standards.

For any company already conducting business within a closed ecosystem, the grand "efficiency" promised by global, consortium e-marketplaces may not be a top priority. In fact, security and data privacy concerns have become contributing factors to many businesses avoiding e-marketplaces altogether.

And as Web services mature, they will help make data exchange and application interoperability through your homegrown exchange that much easier to implement.

The need for well-integrated data collaboration also extends to the realm of other disciplines such as content management solutions. One of the most solid products walking the high end of this evolutionary scale is Documentum 4i.

Capable of energising enterprise portals through solid data management and collaboration, Documentum Inc. elevates the process of route document management to one of sophisticated content interaction that will enable information portals to realise their full collaborative potential.

With its support for XML, Documentum can format data to a broad variety of devices. And, its ability to integrate bidirectional access into applications, such as ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems, further proves its enterprise worthiness. I can't begin, in the limited space here, to do justice to the maturity and growth demonstrated by 4i, so I encourage you to visit Documentum.

Analyst's picks

* IBM WebSphere Commerce Suite 5.1 - Solid Java-based application server and toolset make this a strong contender.

* Web services - This business model will change application integration requirements forever.

* HP e-Speak A.3.1.1 - A laggard initially, e-Speak again holds strong potential for Web services.

* Private exchanges - Companies with a static network of partners can benefit from easier integration.

* Documentum 4i - Content management and team collaboration get a boost from this solid suite.

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