Interview: IBM's Liederbach Focuses I-Commerce, Back-End Systems

Internet commerce is one of the biggest markets in the IT industry today, and IBM is one of the largest vendors. InfoWorld reporter Matthew Nelson recently discussed Big Blue's vision of I-commerce and electronic business with David Liederbach, IBM Corp.'s director of electronic-commerce marketing.

IW: IBM has spent more than [US]$1 million promoting e-business. What is the difference between e-business and e-commerce?

Liederbach: E-business, as a definition, is extending any business process from one company to its trading partners and using Web technologies to automate the internal business processes as well. E-commerce is a distinct subset that's wrapped around the marketing, sales, and parts of the customer support processes, and the trading partners you deal with for those business processes.

IW: Does IBM have a more of a business-to-business Internet-commerce focus or is business-to-consumer as important as well?

Liederbach: In the upcoming years, the business-to-business focus will be the dominant one coming out of IBM, and that's clearly a statement of the size of the market that we see. However, early on, the Web phenomenon and I-commerce phenomenon took off in the business-to-consumer domain, and so we have invested heavily and have a whole range of customers from Brookstone to Sears to Kmart.

IW: How is IBM addressing integration of I-commerce with back-end systems?

Liederbach: That is the most important thing in terms of deploying these applications, to ensure that they are seamlessly integrated into your back-end systems. We have a set of open connections to the common marketing, sales, and customer support applications on the back end. We have integrated EDI [electronic data interchange] transactions as a common messaging system in both business-to-business and retail models.

We have done some explicit integration with SAP R/3 as a common back end as well, where we have actually programmed sample transactions to the R/3 environment. And we are working on an initiative that you will hear more about in the second half of the year, which we're calling the Enterprise Commerce Connectors, which is defining the transaction set required to integrate these systems into the back end and develop a set of business objects and explicit adapters to those unique back ends.

IW: What is the next wave for IBM and I-commerce?

Liederbach: Integrating into the back-end systems is the key job right now. The next wave is to integrate the application directly into the buyer's systems. And this is a lot what OBI [Open Buying on the Internet] is.

IW: What is IBM's strategy with the hosting model?

Liederbach: We have an offering called Home Page Creator targeted at the low end. And we've got a Net.Commerce offering that is hosted, which we sell to customers as a mid- to higher-end I-commerce hosted offering. Equally important is that we're enabling our business partners and ISPs to take our software technology and build these commerce applications themselves and sell through to the end-consuming customer for these applications.

IW: How tied in is Java going to be within your I-commerce initiative?

Liederbach: It's extremely important. In fact, with our Version 3 release, we started down the Java path and parts of the product itself are completely written in Java. We are starting to expose Java interfaces and business objects through the enterprise commerce connection story that we are starting to disclose to the market as the predominant way of connecting Net.Commerce to back-end systems. The benefits of Java -- being easy to program, open, and able to run across heterogeneous platforms -- really resonates with our commerce strategy.

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