Corporate Web Business Is Big Business

Myriad Web browsers, publishing tools and commerce software are being designed specifically for corporations

Now that intranets -- internal information networks -- are becoming a corporate necessity, companies are starting to offer more business-to-business Web products.

The goal of these offerings is to jump-start electronic commerce on the World Wide Web by helping companies sell products, research competitors and surf for ideas. These are different products from consumer-based browsers, search engines and security devices. One of the problems with electronic commerce, according to those targeting the corporate market, is that small businesses are trying to use products designed for individuals.

"The 25,000-plus business sites on the Web are in reality billboards because the customer can only look at products but not order them on the Internet," said Robert Davies, president and CEO of SBT Internet Systems, San Rafael, Calif. SBT recently launched a product line called "Internet Business for the Rest of Us." For example, one offering -- WebTrader -- lets companies basically set up an Internet business by capturing customer information such as sales orders and product registrations, all through an encrypted security system.

Web browsers designed specifically for businesses have also emerged as a new market. Earlier this month, Digital Equipment Corp. launched a series of search products based on Alta Vista, now considered to be the fastest search engine on the Web. DEC plans to make it easier for the business Internet user to find useful information. Ilene H. Lang, vice president of DEC's Internet software business unit, said the company hopes to help "cyberworkers" increase their productivity.

SRA International, Arlington, Va., recently expanded its systems integration product line to include two Web browser products. One is "NetOwl," Web searching software that helps businesses search both the Internet and intranets. NetOwl creates a custom index on a company's own Web server and hypertext links to certain data. Search time is reduced from hours to minutes or seconds, according to Paul Jacobs, SRA product marketing director. The time factor is invaluable for business people looking for information on the Web, Jacobs pointed out.

In addition to NetOwl, SRA launched "Intermezzo," multimedia software designed for mid- to large-sized corporation and government offices. The software also helps conduct both Internet and intranet searches. "If the organization now uses any sort of clipping service, for example, it's a logical candidate for Intermezzo," said Jacobs.

However, another company, Attachmate, which markets itself as "the intranet company," has taken a step back from offering business web browsers. "We're not really a browser company," said Bobby Clay, vice president of Attachmate. "We don't want to compete against Microsoft."

Instead, Attachmate has just launched a beta test of a different Web product, the "Emissary Host Publishing System," which lets companies send data now on mainframe computers over the Web. The Web browser acts as the client. At least one state government has expressed interest in the product, said Clay. That state is interested in selling individual driver's license information to rental car companies, he said. It will bring about a whole different way of information exchange, Clay said.

"We think the publishing system will accelerate the move from client/server to intranets," said Clay.

The whole business is accelerating at a phenomenal rate, as those myriad companies now entering the Web business know well. "Everyone in the world is jumping into the market," said Clay.

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