IBM launches software aimed at consumer product sector

As part of IBM's push to tailor its software for vertical industries, the company's Lotus unit is preparing a new software bundle aimed at companies in the consumer products market.

Scheduled for release in January, Lotus Workplace for Consumer Products Customer Management is intended to supplement CRM (customer relationship management) software from other vendors such as SAP AG, PeopleSoft Inc., Oracle Corp. and Siebel Systems Inc. Lotus sees a gap in traditional CRM offerings, which track sales and customer accounts but can omit supplemental features for tasks such as training salespeople on new products.

"This is CRM Plus," said Mike Loria, IBM's director of advanced collaboration products. "People can spend and have customized CRM created for them. We've done a lot of that. That's what this solution is. It pulls together those pieces."

The offering is part of Lotus' Workplace portfolio, a line of applications intended to be put together in mix-and-fashion to create a messaging and collaboration platform. The Consumer Products Customer Management bundle will be focused around a fusion of Lotus' Learning Management System (LMS) with IBM's WebSphere Portal software. Also included will be templates and portlets for customizing processes and roles common in the consumer products industry.

"CRM does a great job of maintaining historical data and details of work in progress, but many sales people have trouble keeping track of the distribution channel, where it's effective, who needs to be trained and who is doing well," Loria said.

Using the new software, account managers will be able to track which distributors have been trained in which products, and will also be able to deliver that training online, where it is needed, Loria said. The product also enables collaboration among team members and with distributors, through instant messaging and Web conferencing abilities.

This is an interesting development in the CRM market, independent analyst Rhion Jones said Friday.

"There is a need for CRM to move beyond the traditional customer-focus, to deal with other stakeholders," Jones said.

In line with an ongoing verticalization strategy IBM made public earlier this month, the company is working on other tailored Lotus Workplace packages. IBM released in August a Lotus Workplace software and services bundle aimed at retail store operators.

Pricing for Lotus Workplace for Consumer Products Customer Management varies by configuration but will be based on the price of the Lotus LMS and the WebSphere Portal, according to an IBM spokeswoman. Pricing starts at about US$143,000 for the WebSphere Portal software and $35 per user for the LMS, she said.

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Gillian Law and Stacy Cowley

IDG News Service
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