IBM to sell internal portal technologies

IBM Corp. hopes to make imitation profitable through a newly created business unit that will sell to customers the same corporate collaboration systems it designed and uses in-house to keep executives and employees in touch.

In an announcement yesterday, IBM said the new Dynamic Workplaces unit, with about 2,000 employees and 300 researchers working to help customers improve their employee collaboration, was formed within IBM’s Global Services practice. Dynamic Workplaces will include a complete suite of interlinked Web-based portal tools, including e-mail, conferencing, instant messaging, message boards and more to help employees communicate wherever they are around the globe.

The new offering from IBM is based on intranet systems it created internally during the past 10 years to help its own workers communicate and improve their business systems, said Ralph Senst, IBM’s vice president of Dynamic Workplaces. Once IBM began using its own intranet as a model in talks with customers, more than 300 customers asked for briefings to learn how the systems worked, he said. When the company found that customers wanted to build similar systems, IBM decided to begin packaging and selling it, Senst said.

“We thought that everyone had this, that this was fairly common,” he said. Instead, what IBM learned was that customers wanted similar systems to make their businesses more efficient — systems they were willing to pay for. “People want it, so we have now made what we made for ourselves available to the general public,” he said.

Under the system, users see a customized Web-based portal on their computer screens that has been designed to meet their specific needs. The custom WebSphere Portal provides tools for workers to communicate through real-time “team rooms,” which are essentially controlled-access chat rooms for projects or organizations. Using bulletin board postings, instant messaging clients, integrated e-mail and other communications tools, companies can keep their employees in contact and increase their productivity, he said.

The portals also provide places for online learning, human resources and other corporate communications.

Dynamic Workplaces will use IBM technologies from other corporate units, including Lotus Domino Extended Search, Lotus Sametime and Quickplace, Tivoli security management software, DB2 Universal Database and WebSphere Application Server.

Also included are tools to move employee expense reporting to the online portal to speed processing and reimbursements.

The first customer for the new product is the Campbell Soup Co., which plans to use it for a new work environment and personalized desktops. The Camden, N.J.-based soup maker said it will later move other critical business processes such as e-procurement and customer relationship management to the advanced Web-based system.

“This new e-workplace and the IBM Global Web architecture are important to our business going forward,” Doreen Wright, senior vice-president and CIO of Campbell’s, said in a statement. “For companies of our size, it is too time consuming and expensive to invent this ourselves.”

IBM has several partners in the rollout of the new offering, including software vendor PeopleSoft Inc., networking vendor Cisco Systems Inc. and telecom vendor Alcatel SA.

Pricing depends on a customer’s needs and will be user-specific, Senst said. IBM is creating the product in several fully equipped standard configurations that customers will be able to buy and deploy. Or it will custom integrate the capabilities into the e-mail, instant messaging or other systems customers already have, he said.