Is e-commerce dead? Lackluster growth and the burgeoning shift away from the siloed platforms of a few years ago to enterprise applications that stress integration with CRM, accounting systems, inventory management and supply chain apps seem to have ushered in a new era counterintuitive to e-commerce.
Not surprisingly, Steve Gatto, program director for WebSphere Commerce at IBM, is quite adamant that e-commerce is indeed alive and kicking. “E-commerce is definitely not dead,” he told CRM Buyer Magazine. However, customers’ requirements for this software are changing, he allowed, and the vendors that meet their evolving needs are going to be the ones that survive and thrive in the coming years.
“One of the things we recognized at IBM and WebSphere is that e-business trends are changing for our customers,” he said. “In the past, customers were interested in publishing information on the Web and then transacting against it. Their current investments are now around integration with commerce functionality both internal and external to their enterprise.”
Another sign of life in this space, Gatto noted, is the growing demand by small and mid-size businesses for products scaled to their operations.
WebSphere Commerce is changing to address both of those needs, he said. Later in 2003, WebSphere Commerce will roll out products with added benefits for small businesses. “Small businesses want applications that are easy to use, simple to install but still have a robust commerce offering. We are working on those enhancements right now.”
The integration piece is also an ongoing focus, he added, noting that WebSphere Commerce’s various components and applications have been designed with seamless integration in mind.
“For example, we are built on the WebSphere Application Server, an extensible platform that makes it very easy to support industry standards.” Other competitors might not necessarily offer an application server but rather might use proprietary code for e-commerce, limiting users’ integration options, he said.
Stand-Alone No More
Indeed, sporting and adventure goods company REI decided to standardize its Web-based store channels and kiosks on WebSphere’s Application Server in large part because the support for open standards means it will be far easier for the retailer to expand its e-commerce operations, Joan Broughton, REI vice president for direct sales, told CRM Buyer.
She knows the value of such integration tools. REI was among the first retailers to go online in 1996 — a time when there were few software options on the market. “We developed a lot of proprietary functionality that was difficult to maintain and expand upon. So we thought it wise to make the investment and move to a Java-powered Web site now.”
Customers’ requirements for integration have evolved dramatically in the space of just a few years, Gatto said. “Stand-alone is no longer acceptable for many firms. Instead, they need systems that can integrate and tie into existing business processes, such as order management, customer service and support.”
Going forward, Gatto said, WebSphere is going to concentrate on enhancing support for Web services. “We already offer native support for Web services, but we are building on that right now.”