IBM extends WebSphere offerings

IBM Corp. has extended its WebSphere middleware range to include software tools geared towards business-to-business (B-to-B) collaboration between buyers and suppliers online.

IBM introduced its WebSphere Commerce Business Edition Version 5.1, an extension of its WebSphere Professional Edition, at the global unveiling of the software product in Hong Kong Wednesday. The development product will be released to the U.S. on Sept. 17, IBM said.

"We chose to launch in Asia because it is the fastest growing region in e-commerce revenues, which we expect to grow 10 times by 2004," said Sandra Carter, WebSphere marketing and channel execution vice president in IBM's Software Group.

Citing research from The McKenna Group, Carter said that 80 percent of Asian businesses online have moved beyond Web publishing and are in the e-business transactions phase, although that's not where the revenue lies.

"It's only in internal process and external integration that profits are made," Carter said. "WebSphere Business Edition will help companies make the transition from simple e-commerce to integration."

Despite the dismal outlook in the technology sector, IBM is confident that businesses will see the return on investment with its WebSphere product. "The reason why so many dot-coms failed was because they didn't integrate their store fronts with their back-end (systems)," Carter said. "WebSphere Business Edition will help integrate front-end to back-end and fulfill business orders."

WebSphere Business Edition encompasses features beyond those already included in the WebSphere Professional Edition, which was released in January this year. According to Carter, functionality such as real-time collaboration, advanced order and inventory management and business intelligence were added to the software suite to support B-to-B environments.

"We've also included granular access control to allow organizations to set up a hierarchy of secure access features and functions so that only those with a need to know are allowed access to certain areas," said Ed Harbour, director of WebSphere Commerce for IBM Software Group.

The list price for WebSphere Business Edition starts at US$125,000 per processor and an average customer with 4 processors will pay about $300,000 after discounts.

According to Puni Rajah, vice president of consulting at International Data Corp. (IDC) Asia-Pacific, discounts of between 40- and 60 percent have become more common in the past year.

"We didn't see a lot of discounts a year ago, perhaps 10 percent was reasonable," she said. " Pricing pressure is a definitely a phenomenon that is highly correlated to the economic situation."

The development edition currently runs on Windows 2000/NT, and its production platform will include AIX, Solaris, and iSeries platforms. Linux will be added to the foray in three to five months, IBM added.

(IDC is a division of International Data Group Inc., the parent company of IDG News Service.)

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