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B2B: There May Be a Disturbance in The Alliance

Ariba, i2 downplay their substitution of PricewaterhouseCoopers for IBM in the Transora contract.

Maybe The Alliance isn't so strong after all.

When

Ariba

(ARBA)

and

i2 Technologies

(ITWO)

said on Tuesday that they'd landed a contract to power

Transora

, an Internet exchange in the food industry, their partner,

IBM

(IBM) - Get Report

, was notably absent.

Just on Monday, Ariba, IBM and i2 had

bragged about the strength of their partnership, dubbing it The Alliance.

But with Transora,

PricewaterhouseCoopers

will assume the role normally filled by IBM.

Jon Corshen, Ariba's vice president of market development, said that while IBM is still negotiating with the exchange to be involved in the deal, PricewaterhouseCoopers will take care of the lucrative integration and consulting work that Big Blue so aggressively targets in its business.

"PWC is a big part of Transora," Corshen said. "They'll be involved on the integration and delivery side. IBM is actively involved in Transora and is still in some active negotiations to provide some middleware applications." Middleware types of software include messaging and security applications.

That news comes on the same day that Ariba, i2 and IBM put out a press release stressing the strength of their B2B troika. The release was issued from a user's conference Ariba is holding in Miami.

Ideally, The Alliance wants to attack B2B exchanges with a three-pronged approach. Ariba provides marketplace and exchange capabilities, while i2 concentrates on software that helps companies manage the manufacturing and inventory process. IBM's job is to integrate those technologies into its clients' systems.

But some analysts have questioned how well that partnership is going, partly because Ariba and i2 are competitors. Ironically, IBM has been cast as the steadying force within the relationship.

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For this deal, PWC was picked to do integration and consulting work because it has been involved with Transora since the exchange was originally announced last March, Corshen said.

An IBM spokeswoman downplayed any negative connotations Transora's choice may have for either the company itself or The Alliance as a whole.

"I know that they're still looking for various other options for other services that we offer," the spokeswoman said. "Basically, it's a good win for The Alliance. Obviously, these companies wouldn't be paired together if it weren't for IBM bringing them together and then going out and making it work in the marketplace. Don't count us out of this exchange altogether. It's just a question of some other things that need to be worked out."

Despite the fact that the three-way alliance has touted itself as having all the right parts needed to build an e-business, Corshen said it's not an all-or-nothing package, and that it can bend to suit a customer's needs.

"The Alliance doesn't demand that IBM be the sole integration delivery arm for all deals," Corshen said. "We don't want to exclude, for instance, the breadth and reach that other integrators may offer as well. This is a flexible alliance, and that makes it stronger."

The IBM spokeswoman concurred, noting that other wins for selected parts of The Alliance -- like IBM and i2 winning a contract to power a private exchange for

Toyota

-- have occurred in the past.

A Transora official could not be reached for comment.

The three-way alliance is countered by another partnership within B2B, the one between

Commerce One

(CMRC)

and German software maker

SAP

(SAP) - Get Report

. That partnership, announced in June, has been competing fiercely with the Ariba-i2-IBM alliance for exchange business.

High-level industry sources at Commerce One's

elink Conference

in Las Vegas on Tuesday said Transora had also approached SAP to do implementation work on the exchange. SAP turned down that potential opportunity, these sources said, because Transora wanted it to come into the deal alone, without Commerce One.

Although Corshen noted that IBM could still sell hardware to the exchange, it's clear that the big dollars are to be made on the consulting side.

"IBM certainly wants

these exchanges to run on as much of its hardware as possible," Corshen said. "But their presence is much larger than that in implementation."

Apparently, not when it comes to Transora.