IBM unveils e-commerce suite

IBM has announced a suite of products and services allowing the setting up of secure electronic commerce Web sites and management of intra-business financial transactions.

IBM has announced a suite of seven new products and services aimed at small-to-large businesses which want to set up secure electronic commerce Web sites and manage intra-business financial transactions. The new products and services, billed CommercePoint, range from a consumer "wallet" for securing credit card payments over the Internet to a merchant server equipped with links to DB2 and ODBC legacy databases containing distribution, inventory and delivery information, says John Kalb, vice-president of electronic commerce for IBM. Also included in the suite is a secure payment gateway, to be based on the upcoming Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) protocol once it is available in early 1997, and personalised Web site hosting services.

When asked about IBM's foray into a realm where Microsoft, Netscape and Verifone have already been fairly successful, Kalb says that the company's "extensive work linking to legacy databases", as well as its trusted name and global reach, would set it apart. "This is a launch, not a finish," says Kalb, who says IBM will continue to ramp up development in its Internet commerce division.

"On paper, IBM has some of the components that other companies don't have. But I'll buy it when I see it," says Allen Weiner, principal analyst for Online strategies at Dataquest in San Jose, California. "One positive aspect is that IBM can build on its relationship with customers around the world."

Separated into three divisions -- business-to-consumer, business-to-business and Internet security infrastructure -- IBM's electronic commerce offerings will be targeted towards retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers and financial institutions. Some of the businesses which have built sites based on IBM's products and services include LL Bean, the governments of Singapore and Denmark and the Express clothing company.

Under the business-to-consumer division, IBM will offer the Net.Commerce merchant server, which includes hooks into most legacy databases and the ability to create customised Web catalogues. The Net.Commerce server, which runs on Windows NT and AIX operating systems, will also include SET-enabled secure payment transaction processing.

Also under the business-to-consumer umbrella, IBM will offer a mall-type Web site called World Avenue (at www.shop.ibm.com) where companies can set up electronic storefronts, as well as stand-alone merchant sites designed and hosted by IBM. The sites will accept payments via SSL-encrypted browsers until the SET protocol is fully available, Kalb says.

For the business-to-business model, IBM will offer a service called World Distributor which helps companies tie together retailers, franchisers and suppliers to utilise backend data to create dynamic intranets and electronic commerce Web sites. World Distributor will also help businesses manage purchase orders, payments and catalogue creation.

For very large businesses, or a government, IBM will offer a service called World Purchasing in partnership with Amercan Express. It will allow businesses to track large scale purchases and electronic data interchange (EDI) transactions through Lotus Notes or a Web browser.

The Electronic Commerce Infrastructure products and services will form the core elements of the CommercePoint offerings, according to Kalb. Built around the SET protocol, the three services and products offered will also include support for digital certificates.

Net.Commerce Payment is a suite of products that allows consumers to securely submit credit card information over the Internet and merchants to accept payments via a SET gateway. World Registry is a public key infrastructure which will enable businesses to set up Web sites based on digital certificates. Net.Registry is the family of products based on such certificates.

All of the products and services will be available in the fourth quarter of 1996, though several will only be available on a limited basis, says Kalb. Pricing has yet to be announced. As far as reaching international customers, Kalb says IBM will wait and see what sort of customer demand occurs abroad before adding new languages to the World Avenue Web site or launching marketing programs for the CommercePoint products in other countries. However, Japanese will likely be the first language added to the online mall service, says Kalb.

One customer, a photo supply company called Robert Waxman, says that 35% of the hits on its site came from international customers, which the eight stores in Colorado had never experienced, a company spokesman says.

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