Sterling Mixes EDI, Web Documents

DUBLIN, OHIO (03/15/2000) - Although its roots are in the electronic data interchange realm, Sterling Commerce Inc. next month will ship Web-based purchase orders, invoices and other business documents that can be swapped between suppliers and buyers online.

Called the Gentran Web Suite, the product line includes business forms residing on one trading partner's Web server for download to the desktop of another trading partner via a Web browser's ActiveX controls. Once the business forms are completed, the Gentran software on the Web server can convert the HTML data into an EDI format or simply leave it as HTML.

Larger companies still rely on EDI as the preferred means for exchanging a wide range of business documents, says Kevin Byrd, marketing director at Sterling.

He says smaller companies have often balked at using EDI due to technical challenges or cost issues.

Gentran Web Suite, expected to start at about $90,000 per server, is for use by larger EDI-capable corporations so they can do business electronically with smaller companies where desktop browsers are the norm.

"The Internet has opened up other ways of doing business, but EDI still has a role," Byrd says. The Gentran Web Suite, which requires Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser or an ActiveX plug-in for the Netscape browser, lets the larger corporation define the business forms and determine whether the data is converted into EDI after it's collected at the Gentran Web server.

Sterling sees demand for EDI software and services still growing at almost 10 percent per year, though this is far less than the 30 percent growth experienced in earlier years.

Sterling is also starting up an IP-based, business-document processing service so companies can have many kinds of documents - not just EDI - stored and forwarded to intended recipients around the world. The service, called Commerce:Centre, will provide auditing of transmissions and a mailbox service in the U.S., India, Brazil, Europe and much of the Asia-Pacific region, Byrd says.

"This hosted service will operate like a secure extranet for our customers," Byrd says. Pricing for the services has not been released.

Sterling, which is in the midst of being acquired by SBC Communications, will become the carrier's e-commerce arm.

Sterling: www.sterlingcommerce.com.

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