is getting personal about B2B.
The Redwood City, Calif.-based firm, which makes software that lets companies personalize their Web sites, unveiled a new B2B offering Wednesday that will put it in direct competition with B2B biggies
( ARBA) and
Pehong Chen, the company's CEO, said that while there's plenty of software that lets companies transact business over the Web, very little of it actually helps companies develop and manage their relationships. He said BroadVision's new offering, called
, will do that and more.
"There are a lot of people enabling transactions, but you've got to go a step further with the automation of the customer-relationship management," Chen said. "Full content-management and customer-relationship management is missing from these other systems."
BroadVision's new software, which lets companies run exchanges on the Internet, will be able to track users' buying habits and adapt to them. For example, if an individual at a manufacturing company routinely orders the same supplies over the Internet, the program will then offer that person other, related products.
"We'll be able to learn your area of focus and relate to that all these other areas relevant to you and offer you that," Chen said. While he touted the functionality of his own software, he referred to products from Ariba, Commerce One and
( ITWO) as little more than "plumbing" that allowed companies to get online.
Ariba and Commerce One aren't formidable competition. Commerce One, for instance, announced this week more than 40 specific add-on services that it's building into its software to make it more robust for business users. And Ariba has been hailed for its aggressive acquisition and partnering strategy, which has given its products additional functionality as well. Both companies have huge head starts in this area.
But because BroadVision has been relatively successful in the past in helping companies develop and target their Web sites -- the company became profitable in 1998 -- onlookers said the company's new offering is significant. More than that, it's already attracted the attention of the competition.
"They've got a lot of clout in the market," said Joshua Greenbaum of
Enterprise Applications Consulting
in Berkeley, Calif., at BroadVision's press conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. Greenbaum had just come from
, the conference that Commerce One is holding in Las Vegas this week. "The Commerce One guys yesterday were all asking me if I knew anything about this, so they were definitely curious."
Nick Moore, a senior analyst at money management firm
Jurika & Voyles
in Oakland, Calif., said the offering is definitely notable within the B2B space. His firm has been long BroadVision, and is long i2 Technologies.
"Is it life-threatening to Ariba or Commerce One? No. Is it a significant new entrant into this space? Sure," Moore said.
BroadVision's software application will be hosted on the Internet by application service provider
, and will live on the Internet, not inside a corporation's firewall. Initially, it will be targeted to facilitate the purchase of goods and supplies that companies use to run their day-to-day operations, like office supplies and computers.
But Chen said that the software eventually will evolve to help firms with the purchase of materials they actually use in manufacturing. Commerce One has been harping lately about the big opportunity in B2B for these "direct" goods. It has held out its partnership with
as a reason why it will succeed in that space, because SAP makes the complex software needed to manage the manufacturing process.
But BroadVision doesn't seem interested in offering software like that, either on its own or with a partner. Instead, the company -- and three customers that are already using its product -- stressed Wednesday how easily BroadVision's software integrated into their own, existing systems. Representatives from
all said the software plugged into their own systems easily.
Chen contrasted that with software that is the result of alliances from different companies, such as Commerce One and SAP or Ariba, i2 and IBM. "This comes out of the box in an integrated architecture," Chen said. "You might be able to do that by cobbling together a bunch of different software, but we call that Frankenstein. You know, you have a brain from this guy and the heart from another guy. It's hard to make that work."
True enough. But in the surging and fast-paced world of B2B software, taking on the competition is sure to be hard, too.
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