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Tech Industry

Big Blue sees green

IBM, seeking to press its advantage in corporate America, unveils services to boost electronic commerce on the Internet.

IBM today unveils a broad range of products and services designed to speed the growth of commerce on the Internet

IBM's CommercePoint family addresses everything from distribution to security to digital IDs for Internet buyers and sellers. Separate offerings, generally due for release by year's end in at least limited quantities, are designed for companies that want to market to consumers or to other businesses.

"These will change the way commerce is going on the new Web," said John Kalb Jr., vice president of electronic commerce for IBM (IBM), who characterized his unit's role as, "We're the plumbing guys."

Underlying IBM's announcement are its support for two key security measures: the secure electronic transactions (SET) protocol and certification authorities (CAs), which issue digital IDs for use on the Net. SET is being finalized by Visa and Mastercard.

Certification authorities are key pieces of any system for electronic commerce, and a variety of similar services have already been announced. VeriSign is the best-known vendor to date, but GTE's CyberTrust unit just won contracts with American Express and MasterCard. Northern Telecom also has announced CA services, and the U.S. Postal Service is pilot testing the issuing of digital certificates at some post offices.

In addition, TradeWave, a unit of Boundless Technologies, formerly SunRiver Data Systems, will provide CA services for the utilities industry. Similar services are likely for various industry segments.

IBM's announcement addresses the infrastructure of Internet commerce, marketing to consumers and selling to businesses. Infrastructure elements were:
--Net.Commerce Payment, a series of products that work with a buyer's Web browser, a seller's Web server and as a gateway to a bank's existing network for processing credit card transactions. An element called Net.Commerce Payment Manager lets developers create other software that supports SET.
--World Registry, IBM's certification authority, or CA. Similar capabilities will be integrated into specialized offerings for banks, transportation firms and health care.
--Net.Registry, a family of products and software components for companies and resellers to create their own CAs for creating secure software applications that require digital IDS.

In the business-to-business arena, which IBM expects to grow faster than the consumer segment initially, the company announced:
--World Distributor, a service to handle all aspects of making a sale, such as account codes, purchase orders, payments, reconciliation, catalogs, and so on. Pricing: a monthly fee plus installation charge.
--World Purchasing, a service for large companies and governments that do contractual buying and selling. The service, which can handle electronic data interchange (EDI) transactions, hosted by IBM or the customer, can be accessed by a Web browser or Lotus Notes client.

IBM announced three consumer-oriented offerings:
--World Avenue, a Web mall for retailers and service companies, due to launch this fall with some 20 retailers. Express, a unit of The Limited Incorporated, and Robert Waxman Camera are already open for business. Hudson Bay will be among the tenants. Pricing: Start-up fee plus a percentage of revenue.
--Net.Commerce, IBM's server software for merchants who want to establish their own consumer-oriented Internet storefronts. Net.Commerce will be available by year's end with prices starting at $5,000.
--World Commerce, a turnkey service for companies that want their own Web store but IBM's resources to make it happen, will be available to come customers by year's end.

Next week, IBM also is expected to unveil offerings for banks to let their customers use the Internet to contact them directly rather than through intermediaries like personal finance software maker Intuit.

The Inet Banking Consortium is estimated to include a score of major banks, including Bank of America, NationsBank, Huntington Bankshares, and Barnett Banks. None of those banks could be reached either.

IBM's bank initiative will use existing IBM facilities for Internet access and hosting Web sites. Through the consortium, bank customers reportedly will be able to access their accounts, pay utility bills, buy tickets, or pay credit card bills over the Web, sources said.

A bank's Web site will be hosted by IBM and connected to IBM's Global Network, which will link the Web sites to regional utilities, credit card agencies, or other service providers over secure private lines. In addition, IBM will supply a secure architecture for the offering.