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Microsoft to help firms join online exchanges

The company is teaming with KPMG Consulting to build e-commerce software for businesses that want to connect their existing computer systems with online marketplaces.

Less than a month after announcing a wide-ranging Internet plan, Microsoft will team with KPMG Consulting to help businesses connect their existing computer systems with online marketplaces.

Microsoft and KPMG, which have partnered in the past, say they plan to offer Dot.Ramp, a new software and services initiative designed to simplify the integration process for buyers and sellers.

The offering targets businesses of all sizes and is centered around Microsoft's .Net strategy. KPMG will provide systems integration work and consulting services.

The company's .Net plan, heavily based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML) data-sharing standard, is aimed at making Microsoft's existing software available over the Web to traditional PCs and to increasingly popular devices such as cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Today's announcement also builds on the e-business partnership Microsoft and KPMG signed earlier this year. The companies launched a program that offers services such as branding, Web technology integration and application hosting services using the Windows 2000 operating system.

KPMG plans to hire 500 consultants throughout the next year who will be dedicated to the newly formed unit, dubbed the "Microsoft Practice."

A slew of online marketplaces have hit the market in the past few months, such as Covisint, an industry consortium formed by General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler to connect the world's top automakers and their 30,000 suppliers. Other marketplaces connect buyers and sellers in industries such as medical equipment, oil and gas, chemical, food, and metals.

As the number of online marketplaces grows, more businesses will face the challenge of integration. Most buyers and sellers will probably spend a good amount of time integrating their existing computer systems to work with online marketplaces.

Meta Group analyst Kip Martin said the growing number of complex online marketplaces means companies will continue to wrestle with deeper integration challenges.

"Systems integration, application integration, process integration across one organization has long been a challenge," Martin said. "As we externalize this and try to knit together (several software components), the complexity increases."

Martin added that the KPMG-Microsoft offering is just one of many to come. The demand for products and services centered on integration will fuel similar partnerships and proposed services, he said.

KPMG and Microsoft said Dot.Ramp will simplify the integration process by using common Internet business standards such as XML (Extensible Markup Language) to connect businesses with multiple marketplaces. XML is a Web standard for exchanging data.

In addition, the companies said that Dot.Ramp supports most business management software products from companies including SAP, J.D. Edwards, Ariba and Commerce One.

Microsoft and KPMG said they will focus on five markets with the new offering, including industrial products, aerospace, chemical, energy and automotive.

In March, IBM released several products addressing business e-commerce and online marketplaces, including Lotus Domino and WebSphere Commerce Suite. Big Blue's e-commerce integration software lets businesses use XML to tie their computing systems together to conduct business over online marketplaces.