Software Aids E-Catalog Management

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IBM Corp. introduced software earlier this month designed to help online businesses manage their virtual stores' electronic catalogs, marking the computing giant's latest step in its ongoing push to become the option of choice for businesses trying to navigate their way through cyberspace.

IBM, Armonk, NY, hopes to sell its $3,000 Catalog Architect software to a range of Net catalogers, from manufacturers and business-to-business marketers to online department stores and specialty retailers. The technology generates stock keeping unit numbers for Internet marketers' goods and manages them so they can be matched up against the retailers' customer profiles.

Dave Liederbach, IBM's director of e-commerce marketing, said Catalog Architect will let businesses "design catalogs in a way that they can organize sophisticated marketing, merchandising or selling tactics - such as cross selling, up-selling, accessorization or substitution … as opposed to just generically displaying product."

Helping businesses get in on the Web marketing bonanza has been a main preoccupation for IBM since just over two years ago, when it began coaxing companies onto the Net with technology and services to manage relationships with vendors, partners and customers. The company has helped move thousands of merchants online and has struck deals with numerous partners providing Net-based services to customers. IBM took steps to unify its own Web presence last fall by consolidating its Internet advertising with six agencies, down from more than 60.

"The bar has been raised as electronic commerce has moved from pilots and exploratory applications to online mission-critical applications," said Liederbach, who noted that one of Net marketers' greatest concerns is the ability to manage content. Highly detailed customer profile databases are largely useless if companies can't manage the act of choosing products to match those consumers.

"[Catalog Architect] can allow companies to take full advantage of their e-commerce strategy," he said, "whether that is on the supply chain management side or the customer relationship management side where they need enhanced merchandising and personalization strategies."

The technology is designed to generate a SKU for each unique product a merchant carries. For example, an apparel retailer might offer a sweater in various colors and sizes, with or without stripes. The software fills the product database record with a SKU for each combination of sweater without a person having to manually enter the data, allowing "deeper and richer" catalog sites, Liederbach said. Products offered through a site then become that much more personalized for each customer.

The software also might help sales of IBM's merchant server software, which runs commerce sites. Catalog Architect is designed only for the company's Net.Commerce server software, the Pro 3.1.2 version of which costs $19,995. Catalog Architect is included in that price, and people who already own Pro v.3.1.2 can get a catalog software license for free.

IBM expects the new technology to be especially appealing to department stores, which traditionally organize products into separate areas, or a manufacturer with several divisions, each managing its own product lines. Merchandisers interact with the product in a spreadsheet environment that runs on the Windows NT platform.

The product's first customers are in beta testing, and IBM business partners are testing it on their own customers as well. Technology consulting firm Computer Intelligence Systems, Irvine, CA, is testing the software on a manufacturing company client. Systems integrator IT firm Information Systems & Services Inc., Silver Spring, MD, has tested Catalog Architect on its own servers and on one client; and e-commerce supply chain outsourcing firm Fisher Technology Group, Pittsburgh, is testing the software on its own database.

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