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Technology Focus: Electronic Commerce Apps and Services

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The importance of Electronic Commerce continues to grow. EC product vendors weigh in on the future of the market and the best ways to get started with an implementation.

 

With Electronic Commerce (EC) seeming to increase its contribution to the bottom line at most companies year after year, its importance to enterprises is growing proportionally. Given the opportunities to do meaningful business at any hour, with customers or trading partners located anywhere on the globe, companies who ignore or shortchange EC as part of their business plan do so at their peril.

 

If your organization is planning an overhaul of its EC operations, or even belatedly just getting started, an overview of the software options available for the IBM i may be helpful.

 

Although EC touches on many functional business areas, here we'll look only at general EC suites and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings for general use with IBM i machines, as opposed to industry-specific EC applications or point-of-sale products. For a review of other functional areas closely related to EC, other MCPressOnline articles may be useful. For an overview of customer relationship management products, please see "Technology Focus: Apps for Managing Your Customer Relationships." For enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, please see "Technology Focus: ERP Software for IBM i Offers a Smorgasbord of Features." For a closer look at supply chain options, please see "Technology Focus: Keeping the Links in Your Supply Chain Strong." Although data security is integral to the EC process, for a closer look at those kinds of products, please see "Technology Focus: Encryption and Tokenization."

General Advice on Getting Started with EC

If you're just getting started with EC, a survey of opinions from four major EC application vendors in the IBM i market shows that the most universal advice is to recognize that an EC initiative touches nearly all areas of a business.

 

"Probably the most important decision is to recognize that EC is not an IT-only project," warn Lana Ho, director of professional services, and Paul McDonald, services manager, both at LANSA. "It is a business project where sales, marketing, IT, finance, and operations are all stakeholders in the process. These stakeholders must then determine the target audience and the purpose of the e-commerce initiative."

 

"First, decide on the scope of your electronic commerce solution requirements," agrees Jim O'Leary, vice president of product management at EXTOL. "Will you focus strictly on meeting immediate needs, or also take future needs into account, and if so, which ones?"

 

Ron Katz, president of ENTRACK, suggests asking questions such as, "It is cost-effective? Will it provide faster response time between trading partners? Will this provide more electronic capturing of data as opposed to a manual process? Is this utilizing current technologies? Will this provide a good vendor/customer relationship?"

 

Jim Scott, senior VP and general manager at ACOM Solutions, points to process improvement and return on investment as the most key considerations.

 

"Many companies underestimate the scope of an e-commerce initiative. The good e-commerce site represents the results of a series of well-thought-out processes and internal projects across multiple business units within the enterprise," stress LANSA's Ho and McDonald. They recommend asking such questions as "Will the e-commerce site represent an extension of sales or marketing or both? Will the site be driving new business or facilitating current customers? Will the site service a multilingual user base? Will social media be required as an important element of the initiative? Where will product and content data come from? How will the e-commerce solution be dynamically integrated into the existing catalog, ERP, pricing, ordering processes? Where will the Web-ready content, images, translations (for multilingual customers) be sourced for the site?"

 

"Decide whether you want to outsource the platform, implementation, and operation of your EC solution, instead of using in-house personnel and resources," elaborates EXTOL's O'Leary. "The main factors that drive this decision are personnel requirements, skill-set compatibility, time-to-deployment, risk tolerance, and budgetary flexibility. Decide how you want to stage capabilities over time. Staggering projects and phasing in trading partners, document types, and application interfaces lets you deliver important capabilities earlier, less expensively, and with lower risk than tackling your complete EC program in one giant project."

 

In planning for the future, O'Leary concludes, "Look at the requirements of your most important partners first, then look at the needs of smaller partners. Decide what kinds of interactions you need to support. Ask yourself if upcoming mergers and acquisitions might affect a need to integrate data and applications, or to synchronize databases."

EDI and XML: Not Exactly Competing

Aside from the strategic business concerns, there is at least one technical question that needs an early answer. That's what document exchange standards an EC system will need to support.

 

There are several major standards for EDI document exchanges. ANSI ASC X12, or X12 for short, is the primary standard used between North American businesses. UN/EDIFACT is the most widely used standard for international EC. Less commonly used are TRADACOMS, primarily used in the U.K., and ODETTE, a standard used in the European automotive market.

 

Extensible Markup Language (XML) has also increased in use in EC document exchanges, but not all the vendors agree on its importance.

 

"More customers are using XML for application integration; however, no two implementations have been alike," notes ACOM's Scott. "Unfortunately, without an 'across the board' XML standards-compliance initiative, this will continue to be a high-priced option."

 

"I haven't seen a huge increase [in need for XML]," reports ENTRACK's Katz. "Current EDI documents that use X12 and EDIFACT are more standard."

 

"We've seen an increase in XML adoption for EC, but primarily for application-side integration," observe LANSA's Ho and McDonald. "In part, this trend is driven by application-vendor adoption of XML, but we also see businesses adopt XML internally for proprietary interfaces, [and] because of portability, tool support, and other advantages. [Otherwise,] use of XML for EC documents is driven primarily by larger companies and consortia."

The Future Outlook for EC Apps

When asked if there's any significant difference between EC apps for IBM i and other platforms, the vendors cited agree that today there really isn't. O'Leary best sums up the biggest change by stating, "Years ago, businesses invested in tight integration between EC middleware and IBM i applications. Today, most businesses we talk to who have IBM i investments prefer to install EC middleware on less expensive Linux or Windows machines, accessing IBM i resources over the network."

 

When asked what the most common requests for new features in EC apps are, ACOM cites enhanced XML capabilities and HIPAA 5010 EDI compliance. ENTRACK notes new communication encryption methods. EXTOL points to improved visibility of EC content and activity data to better support service-level agreements, auditing requirements, and daily operations. LANSA has seen requests for Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance, social marketing, dynamic content management, and mobile solutions.

 

The most critical technology that may affect EC in the future is also the source of multiple views from the queried vendors.

 

Using cost-effective, PC-based translation tools is ACOM's suggestion. Communication features for the IBM i such as encryption is ENTRACK's thought. EXTOL believes the ways in which cloud computing will change EC is going to be a major issue. LANSA, perhaps a bit more ominously, sums it up this way: "With the on-demand expectations of the target market, the paradigm shift to an app-centric view, and the fragmentation in the mobile-device market, the ability to keep pace is daunting."

 

No time like the present for getting started.

 

Below is a quick summary of some major EC application and service vendors for IBM i. Obviously, these descriptions are incomplete information about the offerings. They are simply summaries of major features to help you decide where to focus your own research efforts first.

 

As always when looking for products or services, be sure to check the MC Press Online Buyer's Guide.

EC-Related Applications and Services for IBM i

ACOM Solutions

EZConnect EDI/XML

EZConnect EDI/XML automates translation of business documents between EC trading partners. It enables direct access to multiple databases and applications systems, automatically maps documents from new trading partners without user intervention, and includes document-level tracking and auditing capabilities.

 

Aktion Associates

DataLink/400

DataLink/400 is a data-synchronization tool that interfaces between DB2 databases and IBM/Lotus Notes-based e-commerce applications. The product supports real-time synchronization of IBM i data with online Domino applications, offers synchronization for applications that require disconnected users, and controls timing of data transfers through triggers.

 

ASSISTCornerstone

ASSISTCommerce Suite

ASSISTCommerce Suite is an end-to-end, cross-channel, real-time enterprise solution for companies selling their products to end users. The suite includes an order-management system designed to support multi-channel commerce activities between retailing enterprises. It includes features for handling customer contact, order management, inventory, fulfillment, and accounting, as well as offering multi-lingual and multi-currency capabilities.

 

Axway

Axway B2Bi

Axway B2Bi runs on IBM i under AIX and Windows. It provides an integration solution that ties together software products of multiple enterprises, provides a data exchange via EDI and other B2B software messaging systems, and helps users manage business transactions and other communications.

 

Axway Integrator

Axway Integrator runs under AIX and Windows and provides real-time data control and transformation to help enterprises manage partner networks. It can process data in any format, including all variations of EDO, XML, flat files, as well as data from in-house applications and common ERP packages such as Lawson, Oracle, and SAP.

 

CLEO

LexiCom

LexiCom is a secure data-transfer solution that can be used to support EC activities. It can interface to IBM i via a Windows PC used as a gateway. The product supports more than 30 EDI translators.

 

DPS

DPS Flash

DPS Flash runs on IBM's WebSphere Application Server and provides e-business integration services for wholesalers and distributors. It supports XML communications, credit-card payments, order processing, customer self-service features, and security controls.

 

Ektron

e-Commerce

Ektron's e-Commerce is an accelerator for enterprises seeking to establish EC websites. The product includes prefabricated shopping cart, payment gateway, order fulfillment, and browser interface software components to help developers rapidly build EC capabilities.

 

ENTRACK

ENTRACK EDI Software

ENTRACK EDI Software is a GUI that supports EDI communications and standards on platforms running i/OS or Windows. It supports numerous encryption standards, multiple-company operations, as well as VANS and private networks.

 

EXTOL

EXTOL Business Integrator (EBI)

EXTOL's EBI runs under i5/OS, Linux, and Windows. It replaces conventional EDI translators, mapping tools, XML integrators, data integration tools, and web services toolkits and integrates with existing applications, data, and business processes to create simple point-to-point connections that automate parts of larger processes.

 

EXTOL EDI Integrator for i

EXTOL EDI Integrator for i integrates external business partner transactions with internal applications and data, based on any combination of X12, EDIFACT, or proprietary flat-file information. The product also includes administrative dashboards, support for all major EDI standards and proprietary formats, automated trading-partner setups, and auditing features.

 

EXTOL EDI Integrator Option

EXTOL EDI Integrator Option extends the services of the EXTOL Business Integrator product on platforms running Linux and Windows. The product provides a combination of integration services, tools, and metadata needed to create, deliver, manage, and maintain EDI collaborations. The solution extends the services and tools foundation used in EBI to support non-EDI collaborations and business integration.

 

EXTOL Enterprise Adapters (EEA) for Applications

EXTOL's EEA product family offers design-time and runtime interface components that integrate commercial application systems with external trading partners and internal applications and enterprise data, using XML, EDI, spreadsheet, flat file, and database content. Supported third-party applications include those from Oracle/J.D. Edwards, Infor, and SAP.

 

EXTOL Portal

The EXTOL Portal is a combined software and service offering that facilitates migration to full Internet-based e-commerce by enabling communications with traditional VANs and private networks as well as Internet-connected partners and exchanges.

 

GSX

Managed Services

GSX, which absorbed Inovis in 2010, offers a wide range of EC-related managed services for companies, including those using IBM i, that want to establish an EC trading network. Services include mapping and translation, trading community management, technical support, data-center operations, and reporting.

 

IBM Corporation

WebSphere Commerce

IBM WebSphere Commerce enables construction and maintenance of EC sites for enterprises that include relevant content, marketing and promotions, and all selling business models (including B2C, B2B, and B2B2C) in a single customer interaction platform.

 

I/NET

Commerce Server/400

Commerce Server/400 is an HTTP daemon that gives enterprises the ability to conduct secure, encrypted financial and other transactions over the Internet.

 

Merchant/400

Merchant/400 helps users create merchant applications that function over the Internet. The product accepts credit card transactions and authorizes or rejects transactions in real-time.

 

LANSA

LANSA Composer for EDI

LANSA Composer for EDI facilitates integration of business-transaction documents with applications. It includes EDI-mapping and automatic translation of traditional EDI documents to and from application databases.

 

LANSA Data Secure Direct

LANSA Data Secure Direct provides Applicability Statement 2 compliance for companies using traditional EDI for EC communications, as well as XML documents. It runs under i5/OS and Windows and integrates with existing EDI translators.

 

LANSA Commerce Edition

 

LANSA Commerce Edition is a suite of Business-to-Consumer (B2C) and Business-to-Business (B2B) components built upon LANSA's powerful, award-winning productivity tools. Using a framework approach, LANSA Commerce Edition rapidly generates IBM i (System i, iSeries, AS/400) and Windows eBusiness applications which leverage your existing ERP system. The eBusiness applications integrate with existing logic such as pricing and inventory allocation with real-time data access to provide award winning customer self service to your business partners and users.

 

MICROS

eOne Commerce

MICROS' eOne Commerce runs on any platform supporting Java to provide online consumer EC services for nearly any business type. Features include catalog browsing, ordering, customer self-service, promotions, inventory checks, and customer information updating.

 

NetSuite

Suite Commerce

Suite Commerce is a SaaS offering that provides a wide range of customizable B2B and B2C EC services, including product catalog, site navigation, online ordering, inventory and order management, and online analytics and reporting.

 

OpenText

EasyLink

EasyLink is an EDI service-provision arm of OpenText. Service options include an EDI VAN, EDI via the Web, a service bureau, and other managed services. Service offerings may be specialized or combined and support all platforms.

 

Prime Factors

Psypher Security Suite

Psypher Security Suite lets users manage a trading-partner database of encrypted keys and security options to protect EC transactions. The suite supports hub-spoke trading configurations and multiple EC protocols, and runs on AIX and Linux as well as i/OS.

 

Townsend Security

Alliance XML/400

Alliance XML/400 supports EC activities by automating the inbound and outbound processes of XML documents and Web services. The product handles ASCII-to-EBCDIC translation, data conversion to IBM i numeric formats, field-length validation, Base64 encoding, and IFS file integration for inter-enterprise documents.

 

 

John Ghrist

John Ghrist has been a journalist, programmer, and systems manager in the computer industry since 1982. He has covered the market for IBM i servers and their predecessor platforms for more than a quarter century and has attended more than 25 COMMON conferences. A former editor-in-chief with Defense Computing and a senior editor with SystemiNEWS, John has written and edited hundreds of articles and blogs for more than a dozen print and electronic publications. He is currently CEO of John Ghrist Agency, a marketing communications firm for technology companies. You can reach him at ghrist@comcast.net.

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    Watch this recorded webinar with IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will and IBM Power Champion Tom Huntington to gain a unique perspective on the direction of this platform, including:

    • IBM i development strategies in progress at IBM
    • Ways that Watson will shake hands with IBM i
    • Key takeaways from the AS/400 days

     

  • Ask the RDi Experts

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericWatch this recording where Jim Buck, Susan Gantner, and Charlie Guarino answered your questions, including:

    • What are the “hidden gems” in RDi that can make me more productive?
    • What makes RDi Debug better than the STRDBG green screen debugger?
    • How can RDi help me find out if I’ve tested all lines of a program?
    • What’s the best way to transition from PDM to RDi?
    • How do I convince my long-term developers to use RDi?

    This is a unique, online opportunity to hear how you can get more out of RDi.

     

  • Node.js on IBM i Webinar Series Pt. 2: Setting Up Your Development Tools

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using NodeRun.com as a pre-built development environment

     

     

  • Inside the Integrated File System (IFS)

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericDuring this webinar, you’ll learn basic tips, helpful tools, and integrated file system commands—including WRKLNK—for managing your IFS directories and Access Client Solutions (ACS). We’ll answer your most pressing IFS questions, including:

    • What is stored inside my IFS directories?
    • How do I monitor the IFS?
    • How do I replicate the IFS or back it up?
    • How do I secure the IFS?

    Understanding what the integrated file system is and how to work with it must be a critical part of your systems management plans for IBM i.

     

  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.

     

     

  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.