IBM's Internet guru bullish about e-commerce future

IBM Internet guru Irving Wladawsky-Berger has brushed aside Internet commerce skeptics and presented an encouraging vision of the Web's progress and future. In his keynote address at Internet World, the IBM general manager of Internet solutions said that 'angst and consternation' about the Web's prospects for supporting electronic commerce are premature.

IBM Internet guru Irving Wladawsky-Berger has brushed aside Internet commerce skeptics and presented an encouraging vision of the Web's progress and future.

In his keynote address at Internet World, the IBM general manager of Internet solutions said that "angst and consternation" about the Web's prospects for supporting electronic commerce are premature.

"It's like learning how to hit a baseball and then turning around and saying, 'Wrigley Field, here I come,' " he joked.

Powered by a free market, Web infrastructure will in due time catch up with industry expectations for conducting Web-based business, he said.

Wladawsky-Berger outlined five areas in which he believes the Web is already demonstrating its potential business value: marketing/branding; customer self-service; transactional processing; security; and personalisation.

The Web will be integrated with traditional ways of handling these functions, but won't consume them, he said, noting that "people will always want to slam the door on the new car they're buying."

Recent developments such as the secure electronic transaction (SET) protocol and advances in search and data mining technology should ease fears about credit card transactions and end the "agony" of sifting through data, he said.

Wladawsky-Berger also gave an expected nod to IBM's announcements today about new NCs, Java-based e-commerce tools, and an Internet "burglar alarm."

Admitting to a glass-is-half-full perspective, he wrapped up by quoting Yogi Bera - "And the glass is getting taller."

One user who listened to Wladawsky-Berger said it was important to use the technology currently available to get started in the Internet now.

"There's a lot of stuff out there, but if you're waiting for it to be perfect it will pass you by," said William Chamberlain, of Hewitt Associates, a benefits outsourcing company. "You have to start small and grow from there."

Hewitt currently has a home page on the Web that allows clients to access salary survey information. But the company hopes to expand its use of the Internet to include the ability to let clients make changes to benefits plans directly via the Web, without having to contact Hewitt by phone.

Another attendee said that people get impatient with the idea of starting slowly and then building up Web applications. Response time on the Web is slow, and upgrading Web applications can be time-consuming, according to Denise Bohling, the webmaster for Hallmark Computer Products, a computer distributor in Arizona.

"Just because [an application] is on the Web now, doesn't mean it's going to happen quickly," Bohling said. "It's going to take a lot of hard work to improve things, but people expect it to happen yesterday."

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