The gospel according to IBM: salvation through e-business

Earlier this year, IBM found religion in the form of electronic commerce. CEO Lou Gerstner had a vision of an information superhighway lined with electronic stores and shopping malls, all running on IBM hardware and software.

A few years ago, Microsoft also became a convert to the power of the Internet. In less than three years, Bill Gates and company have not only embraced Internet technology but have taken a dominant role in almost every segment of the Internet, from browser to server to vertical-market services to electronic commerce. IBM is hoping to achieve similar results with its electronic business (e-business) strategy, which incorporates electronic commerce and business-to-business extranets.

Gerstner may very well be correct about e-business' potential. What remains to be seen is whether an organisation of IBM's size and complexity will be able to react with the speed necessary to establish and maintain a lead in this area.

IBM already has a strong foothold in e-business via its partnership in the Integrion Financial Network, which provides interactive banking and electronic commerce services to financial institutions. IBM also sells custom e-business applications for the retail, insurance, health care and financial industries. And, of course, IBM has dedicated a significant number of its service personnel to the integration and support of these platforms.

However, IBM's biggest push into the e-business sector will come from two recently upgraded products: Net.Commerce Pro and Domino.Merchant Server 2.0.

The packages target different segments of the market. Net.Commerce Pro is for large electronic commerce sites with complex cataloguing and process methodologies. Domino.Merchant, which was developed by Lotus, targets small to mid-size businesses that are Notes users.

Both products reflect the strengths and weaknesses of their developers. Net.Commerce Pro provides support for multiple servers, databases and storefronts on a single server, as well as comprehensive Java-based administrative tools and integration into many operating system platforms. However, it does not provide much in terms of wizards -- automated processes that simplify the installation and configuration of e-business software. Net.Commerce Pro does include some complex business-to-business tools for extending relationships to vendors and business partners via secure extranets.

Domino.Merchant 2.0 does not support as broad a range of databases and operating systems as Net.Commerce Pro does. But it is user friendly, easy to install and no longer requires the Notes client to create a storefront. With the new browser-based administrative tools and wizards, you can develop a fully functional electronic commerce site in a few hours.

The products take advantage of Web-based administration, allowing you to make changes to your electronic commerce site using any Web browser. Both also include support for the Secure Electronic Transaction and Secure Sockets Layer protocols.

The sleeping Blue Giant seems to have woken. If these products are any indication of IBM's ability to make quick changes in response to customer needs in the e-business arena, competitors beware.

If you are looking for an electronic commerce solution from a company that provides all of the pieces of the pie, you may want to take another look at IBM. Big Blue has the resources, stability and capacity to make a big splash in this arena. And if IBM continues to expand on the strengths of Domino.Merchant 2.0 and Net.Commerce Pro in future e-business offerings, it may well become the one-stop electronic commerce shop for companies of all sizes and business models.

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