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Netscape e-commerce suite ready

The company releases the final piece of its Net commerce software, completing the CommerceXpert suite of offerings it acquired from Actra.

Netscape today released the final piece of its Internet commerce software, completing the CommerceXpert suite of offerings it acquired from Actra, Netscape's former joint venture with GE Information Systems.

BuyerXpert 1.0 is a packaged e-commerce application for buyers designed to reduce procurement costs by automating corporate purchasing processes. Other elements of Netscape's suite automate additional aspects of online commerce, including publishing and selling over the Net.

Daphne Carmeli, vice president of marketing for Netscape's applications division, also hinted at Netscape's evolving strategy to use traffic to its popular Web site to reinforce its enterprise software and services businesses. That effort could result in deals where Netscape sells its e-commerce software, then promotes the buyer's site on NetCenter, the business-oriented portion of the Netscape site.

"That's something a point solution can't do," Carmeli said. "How to get eyeballs will become a core differentiator."

She identifies Netscape's chief e-commerce rivals as "platform" players like Microsoft and IBM. That view echoes Microsoft's thinking, as expressed last month by its top e-commerce executive, Anthony Bay, who expects Oracle also to join the e-commerce fray.

Netscape also stresses its e-commerce offerings as full-scale applications, not toolkits for building applications, as it dubs Microsoft's Site Server Commerce Edition offering. The difference is reflected in pricing--Netscape's BuyerXpert software starts at $250,000 for a two-processor system and also requires the $75,000 ECXpert basic transaction software. Microsoft's offering, by contrast, is priced from $4,600 but requires more work to assemble a Web storefront.

"The toolkit approach is expensive--we call it 'glue and adult assembly'--and we contend it results in time-to-market delays," Carmeli said, citing analyst studies that say companies spend an average of $1.5 million to build an Internet store, particularly in the business-to-business sector.

Like products from other vendors, Netscape's BuyerXpert aims to streamline corporate purchases by putting the processes online and routing information through the same channels it would pass through on paper. Much of a buyer's cost for purchases of office supplies lies in the detailed paperwork required to make a purchase--estimates run as high as $80 to $150 per order, even on routine items.

Vendors including Commerce One, Ariba Technologies, Oracle, Open Market, Trade'ex, and InteliSys are targeting this business-to-business purchasing market.

Buying organizations also can save money because online systems route orders through approved vendors at negotiated prices, eliminating so-called "maverick" purchases when an employee or department goes outside established buying channels.

Netscape's new browser-based software automates the entire purchasing process, including catalog management, purchase orders, internal approvals, and integration to sellers' Internet or legacy systems, including traditional electronic data interchange (EDI) over secure private networks or via the Net.

Netscape's new software supports two emerging standards in Internet purchasing, the Open Buying on the Internet (OBI) protocol and Internet EDI (EDIINT), a World Wide Web Consortium standard for moving forms-based EDI transactions, which are sent direct from computer to computer without human intervention, over the Internet instead of private networks. OBI regularizes how online catalogs are designed to increase interoperability.

BuyerXpert also integrates with enterprise resource planning software systems from SAP, R/3, and Oracle, thus linking with existing systems for both buyers and sellers. Links to other such vendors are planned.

Features in BuyerXpert 1.0, now available on Sun Solaris, include catalog and searching tools, self-service ordering and approval from a Web browser, and contract-based pricing.