BusinessPro is now available for a flat rate of $25 a month. With content geared toward business, the service provides chat rooms, forums, and updated financial and market information.
But it's the forms-based electronic data interchange capabilities coming in the second half of the year that might make the service more attractive than financial information offerings from existing online services. EDI is like an advanced form of email that lets users exchange forms, such as invoices or purchase orders, with embedded transaction information so that common business exchanges can be done electronically instead of on paper.
"That's the jewel," said John Berry, GE's manager of communications and public affairs. "Business-to-business electronic commerce is what we do for a living."
GE is also offering to license the core engine of the service to companies.
Analysts expect to see an increasing number of services like BusinessPro. "It's definitely a measure of what's coming," said Emily Green, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Green compared BusinessPro to America Online's Enterprise operation, recently formed to help business use AOL's proprietary software to set up private forums for their employees.
AOL clones itself for businesses