Tools Are Geared for B-to-B

SAN MATEO (08/04/2000) - The business-to-business space represents the sweet spot of the market for e-commerce tools vendors these days, offering traditional also-rans an opportunity to raise their profiles.

And although the commercial requirements and the technology behind business-to-business transactions are not exactly new, there is a need for development tools that simplify the assembly process.

The goal is to tie together heterogeneous environments to make the data in disparate systems available to customers, partners, and suppliers.

With that aim in mind, tools and middleware vendor Compuware Corp., in Farmington Hills, Mich., is tailoring the forthcoming version of its Uniface development environment toward the externalization of internal processes, value chain integration, and business relationship management, according to Edwin Schumacher, director of product development at Compuware.

"Today's [applications such as] CRM [customer relationship management] are more focused on business-to-consumer relationships," Schumacher said.

The company is putting the finishing touches on Uniface 8, which was recently issued to approximately 15 beta sites.

The new version includes so-called white box business-to-business components, such as process templates, partner interface templates, applications components, and e-commerce components.

Uniface 8's architecture supports business-to-business applications across a variety of clients, including Web browsers, WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) phones, and e-marketplaces and portals, according to Schumacher.

When Uniface 8 ships in November, analysts expect it to compete with products from IBM, BEA Systems, BroadVision, and Ariba.

BroadVision, for instance, last week announced two new applications that it claims enable customers to manage business relationships throughout the e-commerce value chain.

Ariba and IBM partnered to release a product and services bundle that enables customers to build an e-commerce site that automates the connections to buyers and marketplaces.

Despite all the talk about b-to-b, actually implementing it is going to be difficult, according to Tracy Corbo, an analyst at Hurwitz Group, in Framingham, Mass.

"It's tough enough to connect separate offices, and that's without handling issues like firewalls, security, and other basic stuff. And it isn't pretty when you get down to the nuts and bolts of conducting e-commerce transactions with partners and suppliers," Corbo said.

Rikki Kirzner, vice president of application development and deployment at IDC, in Mountain View, Calif., said that she expects Compuware's market share to increase significantly based on Uniface 8.

IDC's breakdown of the application design and construction market shows Microsoft with 9.5 percent, Computer Associates with 4.7 percent, and Oracle with 3.6 percent. Compuware, for its part, ranked 13th with 1.1 percent market share.

Kirzner noted that the market will move to b-to-b, and then the lines between business and consumer will blur.

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