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Niku plans to help firms help themselves

Next week software maker Niku will launch iNiku.com, a Web portal that offers professional services aimed at small business owners and independent service providers.

Software maker Niku will launch iNiku.com, a Web portal aimed at small business owners and independent service providers, next Monday.

The Redwood City, California-based Niku said its new portal is basically a resource "pool" where users can gather information on professional services, and use that information to build their businesses. Membership for the Web site is priced at $19.95 per month.

The new portal site offers product management applications, as well as commerce services and tools to help businesses build a marketing strategy. The company sees the site eventually becoming a "destination portal" for consultants, Niku vice president Anil Gupta said.

Users will be able to post their resumes on the site, offering consultants an easy way to search and match for possible future employees and sources, the company said.

Gupta also said that the company is working with Sun Microsystems to offer Java training on the iNiku.com site. Niku also said it's working with direct mailing company eLetter so that users can download documents and templates for direct mailing projects.

The new portal site will also provide other commerce services, including collections, credit checks, billing, and other services at minimal cost, the company said.

Although there is a big business need for a project like Niku's, success may be a but farther down the road, said Lori Orlove, an analyst with Forrester Research. Orlove said that this [site] may "sound good in theory," but can end up being more of a problem rather than a solution.

David Hotherberth at the Aberdeen Group didn't venture any predictions on the viability of this emerging market, but did say that Niku is working on establishing a market reputation and is trying to sign up big-name providers in the near-term.

The company, founded in January 1998 by former Oracle executive Farzad Dibachi, said the site has been beta-tested by several users, most of whom are journalists and analysts.

Separately, Niku's major competitor, Opus360 announced on Tuesday its plans to launch a portal site in July called FreeAgent.com.

Opus360 had said in a statement that its Internet service would target independent professionals tackle marketing projects and manage their businesses, similar to the offerings in Niku's portal site.

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