Microsoft, partners cast .NET toward e-Business

Microsoft took the wraps off of a new initiative and partnerships designed to help companies establish a multi-channel sell-side business presence and conduct commerce over the Internet at a gathering here on Monday.

The program, titled E-Business Acceleration, is designed to help suppliers broaden the range of their online sales activities.

The initiative is also a means for Microsoft to help shape the future of its .NET platform.

"We're planning for the future of how we mold .NET to meet the needs of suppliers," said Chris Atkinson, Microsoft's vice president of the .NET Enterprise Solutions Group.

E-Business Acceleration provides connectivity to four e-marketplace vendors: Ariba, Clarus, Commerce One, and VerticalNet. The software giant is aligning with the four vendors to promote the initiative.

Microsoft and VerticalNet, for instance, are working together to enable suppliers that use SQL Server, Commerce Server, and BizTalk to publish e-commerce data to any of VerticalNet's 57 marketplaces, according to Robert Hylton, Microsoft's business development manager for e-commerce partnerships.

Microsoft is also lining up with hardware vendors, such as Compaq. and Dell Computer to bring hardware and software bundles to market. Customers will be able to buy the hardware, software, and consulting support via Dell 's Supplier Advantage, for example, which the companies claim will enable customers to connect to e-marketplaces in 30 days.

The software piece of this bundle is Microsoft Supplier Accelerator, a set of tools and components designed to help companies manage their e-commerce efforts and reach additional Web-based sales channels.

Supplier Acceleration is built on BizTalk Server 2000, Commerce Server 2000 and SQL Server 2000. Although BizTalk is the required centerpiece, customers can use SQL Server 7.0.

Microsoft is also working with Andersen Consulting, KPMG, and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, to help meet customised supply-chain requirements.

"Partners will determine in advance the configurations to meet certain needs," said Rebekkah Kumar, lead product manager for Commerce Server 2000.

The idea is that customers can buy the overall solution, and the configuration will be taken care of, so they can select which marketplaces they want to connect with.

Kumar said that customers can connect to any number of the four marketplaces.

Microsoft and limited customers have been testing Supplier Accelerator in a pilot program since September, and availability will be announced at a later date.

Microsoft brought Rick Anderson, the vice president of business development at Spartan Controls, a products and process controls solutions provider, on stage to discuss the solution.

"We can potentially broaden our marketplace and reach more buyers [by using Supplier Accelerator]," Anderson said.

Microsoft's Kumar said that the full packaging has not been determined yet, and the company hopes to make a pre-release version of it more broadly available by the first quarter of next year. She would not comment on a final release date, but BizTalk is slated for release to manufacturing by year's end.

The initiative also has components for small businesses. The bCentral Commerce Manager is a service for small companies to manage e-commerce activity, such as managing catalogues, orders, and payment processing from a single interface. This service is available immediately.

"In the case of small businesses, it will be simple and straightforward to use. Just pick and choose which marketplace you want to connect to," said Satya Nadella, Microsoft's vice president of bCentral.

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