IBM to unveil next version of WebSphere Commerce

At the end of April WebSphere Commerce, IBM Corp. will formally announce Version 5.6, an upgrade to its e-commerce platform that will include a new feature called Starter Stores. Starter Stores is a collection of business processes configured to address different business requirements for different customer segments such as b-to-b, b-to-c, and partner and channel management.

“If you start with a b-to-c approach, there is a b-to-c configuration that gets you at least 80 per cent there,” said Bob Werkema, product manager for WebSphere Commerce.

Werkema said the Starter Stores feature was added in response to demand from some of Big Blue’s largest customers who are looking for less customization and more pre-configuration. “What customers want is 80 per cent of the starting point,” Werkema added.

Small and midsize business (SMB) users can expect the same features to be included in IBM’s Express software solutions targeted at the SMB market, according to Werkema.

In addition to Starter Stores, Version 5.6 will include a strengthened Business Context Engine which will take customer-specific data out so that the same context engine platform can be deployed in different customer environments.

For example, while ‘take an order’ is a single business process, the context engine will base its response on the context of the relationship, such as b-to-b or b-to-c, with each customer receiving a different experience. “This is middleware that addresses profiles, globalization, contracts, and relationships,” Werkema said.

In the past, personalization was about one-to-one relationships, noted Werkema. “Version 5.6 allows you to personalize down to that level, but more interesting is the (ability) to personalize to a segment of customers, everyone in a partner organization, for example.”

Some of the personalization capabilities infused in Version 5.6 should work well in concert with the personalization capabilities contained in the company’s WebSphere Portal product, some observers say.

Dwight Davis, a vice-president and practitioner with Summit Strategies, said he likes what he sees in the new version’s ability to simplify management complexity. “To the degree they are mentioning the management complexity of granular personalization, if IBM has a solution that allows that kind of individual personalization on a broad scale without imposing an undue management burden, that could be a fairly significant value add to the product,” Davis said.

With the new version IBM is also strengthening its analytics engine that will allow users to create a full functioning data mart from which they can carry out data mining, reporting, and related business intelligence functions. Version 5.6 will give users the ability to identify trends and patterns in buying behaviours whether the customer is a b-to-b or b-to-c customer.

The enhanced data mining capabilities will also include data mining models out of the box. Version 5.6 features a single software server, deployable on multiple hardware, with a single point of administration, and, leveraging its recent purchase of Trigo, a catalog and product information management company, a single master catalog against which all business models can execute against, said Werkema.

According to Werkema, IBM is in the process of integrating Trigo into WebSphere Commerce so that as a customer goes through the cataloging process they would use Trigo as the front-end catalogue and WebSphere Commerce order management capability on the back end.

Some observers believe IBM will strengthen even further the integration between the two products. “It might be interesting to see how WebSphere Commerce tracks and how Trigo tracks and how they might be blended over time,” Davis said.

WebSphere Commerce Version 6 will ship on or around April 30, according to a spokesperson.

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