1999's Internet world was predictably dominated by the concept and practicalities of e-commerce with Intel presenting its online strategy and IBM launching a series of Internet development products.
Intel shows e-commerce brawn
By Sandra Gittlen
Intel president Craig Barrett will probably be sorry he missed his Spring Internet World keynote.
Barrett, who passed up the kickoff keynote to meet with a "major client", was upstaged by his fill-in Sean Maloney, senior vice president of sales and marketing.
In a presentation filled with Bloody Marys, online shopping and voice-activated pie-chart development, Maloney showed the packed audience how many e-commerce pots the microprocessor giant has its hands in.
Intel, which didn't start its own e-commerce effort until last year, now boasts $US1 billion a month in online sales in 30 countries, Maloney said.
But for e-commerce to go forward, Maloney says several obstacles need to be overcome, including better information management, increased infrastructure and ubiquitous access.
"Users are under siege by e-mail," Maloney said. Better client-side tools, server-filtering tools and client/server rules need to be developed and implemented, he said.
Searching also needs to change. Intel this week announced its partnership with Excite to develop Excite Extreme, a search engine that presents results in a 3D map. Like results are grouped together in virtual islands, and users can move quickly between the islands. But he admitted that this kind of rendering requires more processing power than most desktops today sport.
Intel also created the English Wizard, a voice-activated system that lets users access SQL databases. Maloney said such technologies would help reduce the complexity of legacy systems. With English Wizard, users can ask questions of the database using Dragon's Naturally Speaking. When Maloney's assistant told the application, "Give me a pie chart showing sales by category. Execute," it returned a detailed chart within seconds.
E-commerce also needs to take advantage of 3D visuals, he said. "If users are going to do most of their shopping online, they are going to want to play with the objects, rotate them around," he said. Using The Sharper Image's Web site, Maloney showed how he could closely examine the Sound Soother, a device that plays environmental sounds such as waves crashing on the ocean. Maloney played with the buttons and played several options then spun the object around.
Another key part to building up e-commerce is ensuring the Net's reliability. Maloney said one of the big tests would be when users log on to their bank sites at 12:05 after the millennium to see if their money is still available. If such a thing happened with the phone network, it would not go down. The Net needs to be the same way, he said.
Finally, he said access needs to be ubiquitous. In a round of hilarious demos, Maloney showed how several people could be on the Web at home simultaneously by using a different frequency on a phone line. Using his children as assistants, Maloney demonstrated how his son could work on his homework in one room while his daughter shopped for a new dress and tested new CDs in another, both using the Internet. He also demonstrated a voice-activated system that responded to his request to make a Bloody Mary by reading aloud the directions.
IBM Serves Up I-Commerce
By Emily Fitzloff
IBM used this week's Internet World conference here as a forum for unveiling a set of software and services designed to help customers develop and maintain efficient commerce Web sites.
IBM announced the Commerce Integrator, software for integrating Internet-commerce sites with back-end systems and data.
Scheduled to ship at the end of this month as an add-on for IBM's Net.Commerce, the Commerce Integrator is based on the company's MQSeries product and offers support for 35 enterprise systems out of the box.
According to Karl Salnoske, general manager of electronic commerce at IBM, the Commerce Integrator includes a GUI that lets users create a set of business rules that dictate how commerce orders are handled.
"It allows for communication between the Web server and back-end systems so that each individual order gets routed to the appropriate fulfillment system," Salnoske said.
Additionally, the product requires no programming or coding, which IBM executives said could result in a 25 to 50 per cent cost savings on development for customers.
Salnoske said the future of the product "will offer not only integration with a company's own internal systems, but with those of their suppliers and partners." That future version of the product will feature support for Extensible Markup Language and for other data exchange standards, including RosettaNet and Open Buying on the Internet.
In addition to the Commerce Integrator, IBM also announced a set of consulting services for customers trying to develop or improve commerce sites.
IBM demonstrated at the show its new electronic-business Accelerator, an online consulting service that will offer information, advice, and personalised assessments. This service will go live this July and will cost subscribers $US300 per year. Information about the site and some preliminary "free advice" is at www.ibm.com/services/accelerator.
The company also introduced another consulting service called Return on Web Investment.
"Calculating return on investment [ROI] is not as easy in this new Web environment as it used to be," said Neil Isford, vice president of e-commerce for IBM Global Services. This service helps corporations make more educated decisions about implementing a commerce strategy by providing in-depth ROI analysis, according to the company. Available now, pricing for Return on Web Investment depends on the size of the company.
IBM also announced another series of consulting services that include E-business Performance Management, offering assessments and performance predictions for companies already deploying commerce sites; High Availability Services for E-business, for identifying and eliminating weak links; and the Testing Service for E-business, a full end-to-end stress test of everything from network hardware to applications for companies who are about to go live with a new commerce site. Prices for these consulting services range from about $US25,000 to $US50,000.
XML Comes of Age
By Jeff Walsh
The Extensible Markup Language (XML) found its way into actual products and not just vendor hype at Internet World this week.
Announcements featuring XML came from Interleaf, RightDoc, General Magic, Sqribe Technologies, IPNet Solutions, and Blue World Communications.
--Interleaf (www.interleaf.com) demonstrated Composer/Styler, a graphical tool that authors XML using the Extensible Stylesheet Language. The tool is part of the company's forthcoming BladeRunner product suite, which is expected to ship in June. The product can format the same XML data to different output types, depending on the style sheet applied.
--RightDoc (www.rightdoc.com) is now delivering RightDoc 2.0, a business document writer that uses XML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) as its file formats, and can output HTML, Portable Document Format, and PostScript formats. The product can also use a Query Designer to integrate more intelligent data into documents using ODBC, which will enable live business data to be imported directly into a document. Priced at $US299, the product runs on all 32-bit Windows platforms.
--General Magic (]www.generalmagic.com) is using XML as part of its new voice agent technology, code-named Kenya. The technology uses XML to store the user parameters for the agents. The agents can call end-users to alert them to information of importance to them on the Web. For example, Kenya can call a user who has been outbid on an auction site. Kenya will be added to the Portico virtual assistant service later this year.
--Sqribe Technologies (www.sqribe.com) announced that its ReportMart Enterprise Information Portal will use XML to integrate third-party applications and date sources into enterprise portals. The first product to use this format is Sqribe's RM/QuickConnect for PeopleSoft, now shipping, which enables a single point of access for PeopleSoft reports and other information.
--IPNet Solutions (www.ipnet-solutions.com) is using XML in its IPNet.Suite 3.0 enterprise electronic-commerce products. The suite features XML data import and export capabilities; translation between XML and other business formats; support for leading Document Type Definitions; and automatic XML-to-HTML translation.
--Finally, Blue World Communications (www.blueworld.com) added XML support to Lasso 3.5 Web Data Engine, which builds database-driven Web applications. Lasso tags can be coded using XML syntax with the new release, which just began shipping and is priced starting at $US299.