Content-Type: text/html; charset=UTF-8 Actra News Index







May 27, 1997 - By Jim Kerstetter
Laura Longcore sounds like Goldilocks rummaging through the home of the Three Bears as she describes buying software to run a commerce-enabled Web site.
Longcore, electronic commerce manager at Boise Cascade Office Products Corp., in Itasca, Ill., faced the same problem of many IT managers trying to establish an E-commerce presence on the Web: to find the software that was just right for her company.
"When we started looking for a product in January 1996, there were hardly any out there," said Longcore.
"The ones that were there were so expensive we thought we could do it ourselves for a lot less," she added. "And the less-expensive products didn't have what we needed."
Decisions, decisions
Today, a proliferation of new products--with prices ranging from a few thousand dollars to $250,000 but offering what sound like the same capabilities--hasn't made that buying decision any easier.
When making their buying decisions for Web commerce servers, analysts and users said, companies must keep three questions in mind as they
try to make sense of this murky, young market: What do they want to do with the Web site? How much do they want to spend? And how large do they want to grow the site?
After looking at Open Market Inc., which was too expensive, and several catalog servers, which were lacking, Longcore settled on a pilot project with Actra Business Systems--the Netscape Communications Corp. and General Electric Information Services spin-off.
Now Longcore is using Actra's $25,000 ECXpert EDI (electronic data interchange) on the Internet server and OrderExpert Seller cataloging software. In addition to considering the scope of the Web site, IT managers
should take their time establishing a Web presence, users said.
"It's probably better for us to spend more up front, quite frankly," said Rich Belanger, vice president of technology at Mainspring Communications Inc., in
Cambridge, Mass.
"We need our system to be very reliable, robust and secure," Belanger said. "We wanted to make it as easy as possible and as comfortable as possible to interact with us electronically."
Belanger opted for the $250,000 OM-Transact platform from Open Market, of Cambridge, Mass. Though pricey, the piece of mind that its scalability and its heavy-duty capabilities offered was worth it, he said.
OM-Transact is a transaction platform that can accept multiple payment types, including EDI, credit cards, micropayments and even procurement information.
Next month, Mainspring will launch a subscription-based IT news service with yearly rates expected to run up to $500. Belanger wanted an
application that could provide fast transaction processing, tight controls over delivery and access, and reliability without a lot of customization or
development time.
Fans of less expensive software, such as IBM's Net.Commerce, say they don't see a major drop-off in functionality. Nevertheless, add-on components such as product configuration engines will drive up the price
considerably, said Douglas Pelletier, president of Trifecta Technologies Inc., a Web site hosting company in Allentown, Pa.
Different applications are trying to answer very different needs, he said. Some, such as iCat Corp.'s Electronic Commerce Suite 3.0, are designed strictly to be configurable electronic catalogs.
That's not to be confused with OM-Transact. In fact, iCat's software can often be used as a front end to OM-Transact.
Even commerce applications from within the same company can service very different needs.
IBM's Net.Commerce server, for example, is ideal for a constantly changing catalog Web site because it provides a GUI that enables an administrator to
temporarily stage new items and set rules to define when those products can be put on the shelf.
Buying the basics
You get what you pay for, said David Alschuler, an analyst at Aberdeen Group, in Boston.
The less expensive software might be more than adequate for a basic Web storefront. "[But] if you are talking about doing business-to-business transactions, you need to handle complex product configurations,"
Alschuler said.
"You need to be able to query inventory and production schedules through integration with back-end applications. Those kind of merchant servers [such as IBM's and Microsoft Corp.'s new Site Server Enterprise] just can't do it," he said.
Most users believe, however, that less expensive applications are catching up fast with the boutique solutions. The most recent releases from Microsoft,
IBM and iCat were significant upgrades, adding Open Database Connectivity compliance and better personalization features.
Even Belanger, who is a big fan of Open Market's software, sees change coming. "If we were making this [buying] decision a year from now," he said, "I think it would be very different."
Copyright(c) 1997 Ziff-Davis Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff-Davis Publishing Company is prohibited. PC Week and the PC Week logo are trademarks of Ziff-Davis Publishing Company. PC Week Online and the PC Week Online logo are trademarks of Ziff Davis Publishing Company.

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