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IBM introduces intranet services

A new unit of Big Blue's Global Services business aims to help companies set up Web portals that let employees, customers and suppliers find information and perform tasks.

IBM on Thursday introduced a new unit of its Global Services business, aimed at helping companies set up Web portals that let their employees, customers and suppliers find information and perform tasks such as filing expense reports or checking order status.

The new e-Workplace Practice division will take corporate intranets and portals to the next level, IBM said, by expanding the kinds of applications and information available through them and consolidating the many intranets some companies maintain into one mega-intranet.

Analysts said, however, that IBM is behind the curve in introducing the service. Intranets and portals have been commercially available for years, and rival consulting companies such as PricewaterhouseCoopers have already established large divisions around them, they said.

"They're a little bit late to the game in that this kind of thing has been rolled out to a number of large companies already," said Paul Hamerman, an analyst at Giga Information Group.

Yet the market for Web portals is still growing, giving IBM an opportunity to snag business in that arena, Hamerman added.

The new unit, staffed with 2,000 IBM Global Services consultants, can provide services for clients using whatever portal software they like, but IBM also plans to promote its own line of Web portal software, such as the WebSphere application server and portal products, as well as software from the company's Lotus and Tivoli divisions. IBM also has partnerships with PeopleSoft, Cisco Systems and Alcatel to provide components that it deems offer essential portal capabilities.

IBM said the unit will specialize in consolidating numerous intranets into one site that lets employees perform self-service tasks, such as filing expense reports, signing up for benefits, managing retirement plans and conducting online meetings. The group will also incorporate online training, employee directories and instant messaging into portals. It can make the portals available through mobile devices such as cell phones and personal digital assistants.

IBM Global Services is one of IBM's fastest-growing divisions, bringing in $35 billion of the company's $85.9 billion in sales last year.