IBM Joins Electronic Commerce Consortium

Netplex company fuels Big Blue's electronic commerce plans

IBM Corp.'s Internet division in Somersville, N.Y., has tapped a small company in Washington, D.C., to help beef up its presence in the electronic commerce market.

IBM announced Sept. 10 that it has joined the Unibex Global Alliance, a consortium of companies that are supporting an electronic commerce network over the Internet for small and medium-sized companies.

Unibex, a four-year-old company based in Washington, formed the alliance and the network, which will be available in July 1997.

The network, also called Unibex, would allow small and medium-sized businesses to research new markets, locate and qualify prospective trading partners, access support and advisory services and exchange domestic and international forms and documents. The network's transactions are encrypted and implemented with digital signatures.

Unibex founder Mady Jalinous developed the network in 1992 and helped create the consortium. Members of the consortium are AT&T, Chase Manhattan Bank, Digital Equipment Corp., Dun & Bradstreet, Simon and Schuster, Technology Solution Co. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. These members bring to the network hardware, software and content that will enhance the options of the network. IBM, the most recent member of the consortium, will provide its suite of electronic commerce products, called CommercePoint.

IBM's entry into the consortium marks the latest move by the company to penetrate the electronic commerce market. Earlier this month, IBM announced plans to launch Integrion Financial Network, a new company made up of IBM and 15 banks that will offer interactive banking and electronic commerce services through the Internet.

According to Tom Patterson, chief strategist for IBM's electronic commerce division in Falls Church, Va., Unibex has a good model for cross-border tracking of international trade. "There is only a small group of people who are successfully doing electronic commerce," said Patterson. "Unibex founders are real business people."

Jalinous, an international economist and Harvard University post-doctoral fellow, was joined in the early days of Unibex by Peter Sandiford, who was previously vice chairman and president of SHL Systemhouse Inc., based in Ottawa, Canada. The original mission of Unibex in 1992 was to create the world's first global electronic commerce network, allowing businesses to participate on an equal footing in global trade. Jalinous and Sandiford recruited the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the consortium in 1994, which represents over 5 million U.S. businesses.

An earlier version of Unibex called IBEX was launched in 1995. After one year in use, the service received 1,500 U.S. and international subscribers.

"Electronic commerce on the Web is a tremendous opportunity for any company to grab," said Robert Rosenberg, president of Insight Research Corp., a telecommunications market research company in Livingston, N.J.

Jalinous says he started the company when he realized in the early 1980s that electronic commerce was dominated by large companies.

Rosenberg says networks like Unibex are fairly common in the industry.

He says the increase in secure networks for electronic commerce is driven by the software developers and by the banking industry who are unable to agree on who should take charge of providing secure electronic commerce transactions.

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