Open Market links Web to back end

Aiming to move control of e-commerce applications further into the enterprise, Open Market will release version 4.0 of its flagship Transact software.

Aiming to move control of e-commerce applications further into the enterprise, Open Market(OMKT) will release version 4.0 of its flagship Transact software, a back-end product for running Internet commerce sites.

The software, due by the end of March, manages orders, processes transactions, and handles customer services for Web storefronts and links to existing business systems inside a company.

Open Market is pitching Transact 4 at the level of enterprise applications from PeopleSoft and SAP. Executives at the company are casting Transact as industrial-strength software that can run crucial aspects of a large enterprise's business and link to critical systems, not just a point product for building online stores.

"Because this is one of the oldest e-commerce products on the market, it has had enough life experience to have incorporated some of the requirements of companies trying to do Internet commerce," said Erica Rugullies, e-commerce analyst at Giga Information Group.

"Transact 4 is not an out-of box-application," said Rugullies, noting that Open Market estimates installation and customization at 6 to 12 weeks. "But Open Market has taken steps to open up the API [application programming interface] to existing business systems. That's a very big deal; now companies can integrate their order fulfillment entry systems with Transact."

The software will sell for $125,000--far more than competitors' offerings--but Open Market argues that Transact is the first full, packaged e-commerce application, not a toolkit for merchants to build their own Web stores. That price is far less than it would cost a company to build its own comparable software, it contends.

Jeffrey Bussgang, an Open Market product manager, said the company's most frequent competitor in sales situations is homegrown software built internally by IS staff or by outside consultants and integrators. That makes the decision to buy Transact an easier one for time- and resource-strapped IS departments.

By moving to an object-oriented structure with Transact, Open Market has made it easier to map a company's Web storefront to its existing systems, according to Bussgang. Transact is built using Microsoft's COM (Component Object Model) architecture, although the software currently runs only on Unix systems. A Windows NT version will be forthcoming, most likely after Windows NT 5.0 ships later this year, he added.

Giga analyst Rugullies calls Transact "a very strong merchant server/transaction management product."

With Transact on the back end, customers can turn to software from other vendors or to other Open Market products to build what their customers see: online catalogs, storefronts, and Web sites. LiveCommerce, acquired by Open Market last February, can handle large online databases and catalogs for selling to businesses, while Open Market's Folio acquisition of last spring brings it a publishing system for information products.

For consumer-oriented storefronts, Open Market suggests software from partners iCat and Intershop.

Bussgang said Open Market's architecture has reduced turf wars within corporations by letting the IS department handle the back-end processes while turning over issues like user interface, catalog design, and pricing to the marketing or product groups whose goods are being sold.

Walt Disney and Time Warner'sPathfinder sites, for example, use Transact for their back ends but allow different product groups or publishing units to customize sites with their own look and feel.

The $125,000 price tag is for individual merchants; ISPs that offer commerce hosting pay $250,000 for Transact plus a per-store fee. Open Market has sold to four of the largest global hosting firms in the world, including AT&T, British Telecom, and MCI Communications.

The product today runs on Unix operating systems, including Sun Solaris, HP-UX, SGI Irix, and Stratus, and works with Oracle and Sybase databases.

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