Enterprise cannot swing an optical mouse these days without hitting a Microsoft product. But despite the software giant’s aggressive posturing, enterprise is hardly at its mercy when developing a blueprint for e-commerce.
In fact, it is easy to avoid Microsoft altogether, Andrew Bartels, an analyst with Giga Information Group, told the E-Commerce Times.
“Most companies are getting their solutions from someone other than Microsoft, such as IBM, BEA, BroadVision, Oracle, PeopleSoft or SAP,” he explained.
Shunning the Giant
Legal woes, scalability issues, often-buggy software and growing concern about bullying techniques have prompted some companies to shun Microsoft, or at least consider alternatives, when concocting e-commerce plans, although Microsoft has pushed with abandon into nearly every nook and cranny of the IT market.
Certainly, the federal antitrust case has illuminated the software maker’s less-than-attractive side and has disenchanted some buyers.And the Redmond, Washington-based company has developed a reputation for its cutthroat style not only with competitors but also with customers.
Microsoft often gives customers the impression that it will steamroll them, Giga Information Group analyst Julie Giera told the E-Commerce Times. For instance, when the company changed its licensing plan, essentially forcing customers to upgrade on a frequent basis while paying for the privilege, it did not consider the financial plight of those customers in the current economic downturn.
“It’s not so much what they did but the way they did it,” Giera said, adding that Microsoft often seems to generate ill will, “which takes a long time to dissipate.”
Despite its aggressive approach, Microsoft’s prospects for dominance are dimmer in the e-commerce arena than in other areas. Although the company currently reaps more revenue than its competitors, it holds the greatest market share in only one part of the market — commerce servers. And even in that sector, Microsoft hardly dominates.
“The e-commerce server market is fairly fragmented,” Bartels said, noting that Microsoft’s “lead position” amounts to just 20 percent market share.
Although Microsoft booked $135 million in revenue from e-commerce products and client services, according to Bartels, IBM is not far behind with $95 million to $100 million.
In fact, considering its short tenure in the e-commerce arena, IBM is winning the PR campaign. “For three or four years now they have been considered the leader in e-business, not because they have exceptional technology in all areas” but because of the company’s advertising presence, Giera said.
IBM’s ‘Wise Decisions’
IBM is also succeeding in part because it has forged savvy partnerships with software companies that specialize in e-business, and in part because of its WebSphere software, which amounts to a flexible infrastructure kit that lets businesses configure their own e-commerce systems.
“They made a number of wise decisions in terms of forming strategic partnerships,” Yankee Group program director Jon Derome told the E-Commerce Times.
Microsoft, on the other hand, has left many would-be partners wary of questionable business practices, buggy software and delayed products. Delays of the company’s .NET platform have added to potential clients’ skepticism, and analysts said Microsoft must hard-sell .NET to the enterprise if it is to succeed in the long run.
“Microsoft hurt its reputation in the way it handled the whole licensing change” with respect to business software, Giera said. “Companies were extremely upset with Microsoft, and at least initially they need to convince businesses first,” rather than consumers, to use .NET.
Microsoft Not Included
Indeed, it is easy enough to leave Microsoft out of the e-commerce equation altogether, Yankee Group analyst Rob Perry told the E-Commerce Times.
An e-commerce server may be the centerpiece of a company’s strategy, powering storefront and shopping cart functions, but any healthy scheme also needs content management, fulfillment and CRM elements.
A Microsoft-free solution that fits those requirements is definitely possible. As a starting point, the E-Commerce Times has put together a sample portfolio of non-Microsoft e-business products.
Every e-business needs a server, and there are many offerings. One, the Sun 6500, is the most powerful server in Sun’s mid-range line and can accommodate up to 30 UltraSPARC II processors and up to 60 GB of memory.
It is designed for mission-critical, enterprise-wide applications and is used by Circuit City, among other retailers, for online commerce ventures.
When it comes to Web servers, Sun’s Enterprise 450 supports up to four 400 MHz/4 MB or 480 MHz/8 MB UltraSPARC II processers.
The system, which focuses on reliability and scalability, is designed to adjust to shifting workloads and is compatible with a variety of workstations, PCs and Macs, according to Sun.
The next necessary ingredient is an operating system — and one Microsoft alternative, Solaris version 9, is Sun’s most far-reaching upgrade in years. The system has about 300 new features that improve the way the OS operates and reduce the required level of administrative intervention.
In addition, the new version of Solaris features enhanced built-in Linux compatibility and is a clear attempt to mesh Solaris offerings with Linux. The OS also includes a toolkit intended to simplify development of Linux-compatible applications.
Sales, CRM and More
If a company needs enterprise portal software, a non-Microsoft possibility is BroadVision’s One-to-One Enterprise suite.
According to Simon King, vice president of advanced strategy at BroadVision, the software’s real strength is its ability to “dumb down” application interfaces to make them usable to companies.
Generally, he said, “there is so much money spent [on applications] — and so few people in companies that can use them.”
Another BroadVision application, One-to-One Commerce, is a multichannel sales portal application favored by the likes of Home Depot and Rand McNally.
The product automates the entire sales process from lead generation and sales to customer support. BroadVision said it integrates easily into back-office systems and offers a consistent buying experience to shoppers across channels.
Last but not least, a content management system is a necessary purchase for many e-businesses.
For example, the Vignette V6 Content Suite is designed to help enterprises handle every aspect of this task. The software creates a content management strategy based on a company’s business processes, and it offers an element of personalization and analysis to help a company understand its customers’ behavior.
The system also can aggregate content from virtually any source, according to Vignette.
These are just a few of the myriad e-commerce products on the market. A wide variety of other solutions also exist and can be substituted for the above examples.
In short, an enterprise absolutely can piece together an e-commerce strategy without Microsoft. The real question centers on how many businesses will take this alternate route in coming months and years.
Morningstar.com analyst David Kathman said Microsoft has a long way to go to persuade users that its intentions are good.
“If Microsoft wants to become an e-commerce force, it needs to watch what it says and should not scare people any more than [it] already has,” Kathman cautioned.