A Canadian distributor of health-care products and services has prescribed itself some IBM software to improve its e-commerce capabilities.

Source Medical is in the early stages of a project that will see it develop an

enhanced business-to-business (B2B) site based on the most recent version of Big Blue’s WebSphere Commerce. IBM this week released version 5.6 of the product, which was developed out its software lab in Toronto.

Source Medical, which was formed from the 1997 merger of MDS Ingram & Bell and Allegiance Healthcare Canada, already had a successful B2B site that was established through an outside partner, but it was costing a lot money to maintain, according to the firm’s CIO, John O’Connor.

“”We also had a traditional ERP-type platform that was a generation behind,”” he said. “”We were doing no Web development.””

WebSphere Commerce, he said, will offer the firm an opportunity to “”insource”” the portal work while introducing improved functionality. Although version 5.6 hadn’t been announced when Source Medical originally signed a deal with IBM a few months ago, O’Connor said he was immediately attracted to some of its catalogue management capabilities and the more simplified Web development, given the product is based on a J2EE environment.

“”It was easy to make the business case internally because there was significant ROI,”” he said. “”It basically reduced my overall IT budget by five per cent. That’s huge to me.””

Additional features in WebSphere Commerce 5.6 include Starter Stores, a collection of pre-configurations that will address different business requirements in various customer segments like B2B and business-to-consumer.

“”The feedback we’ve been getting from our customers is they love the functionality and the capability of the product but what they’re really looking for is faster time to market,”” said Feite Kraay, IBM Canada software sales manager, WebSphere Commerce. “”The business logic is built in so you’re worrying less about the business integration aspects of it and getting it up and running as quickly as possible.””

IBM has also enhanced the software’s analytics engine, Kraay said, allowing users to not only monitor underlying operational analytics such as the number of page views, but also buying patterns — what products have been doing well, and in what region.

Although Source Medical employs about 600 people and has 700,000 sq. ft. of distribution space, improved analytics is an important part of growing its customer base in acute care hospitals and continuous care segments like long-term care facilities, O’Connor said.

“”We were not doing what we needed to be doing on the existing site,”” he said. “”This site will allow us to take advantage of that line-of-business functionality and be able to do promotions and campaigns.””

Kraay said Solution Medical was a good example of the kind of customer IBM is trying to reach with WebSphere Commerce 5.6: those that want to enhance relationships with customers and partners at a reasonable cost and grow at their own pace.

“”My own experience this year is the B2B space is where the vast majority of customers are coming from,”” he said.

O’Connor said Source Medical expects to launch the portal in September.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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