SMBs constantly battle two untiring enemies: time and money. On the one hand, they don't have time to review every possible option. On the other hand, they can't afford to not get it right the first time.
When those SMBs are also relying on e-commerce revenue adding or upgrading technology gets even more complicated. "Commerce requirements are different," said Steve Gatto, program director, WebSphere Commerce at IBM. "We are seeing companies moving to their third generation of e-commerce [products] previous versions were not integrated with other applications and business processes." For example, Gatto said, the bricks and mortar part of the business typically have different processes for inventory and order management than the online operation.
Today, businesses that sell online need multichannel support that encompasses store, catalog and Web site sales. "It all has to be integrated. You should have the same experience whether you are buying online, through a catalog or in store. If you place an order in store you should be able to track it online."
IBM's answer for e-commerce is its WebSphere Commerce platform, which is designed to integrate all facets of a business and provide reporting tools, marketing, promotion, and other e-commerce services.
When it comes to its WebSphere Commerce and operating systems, Gatto said IBM is agnostic. "We support Windows, AIX, Solaris and Linux." However, Gatto said Linux does offer SMBs clear benefits: the low cost to deploy and maintain the open source operating system and its stability topping the list.
Stepping Up to the Plate
Kingston, N.Y.-based Anaconda Sports wasn't caught up in the operating systems wars and never thought it could afford an IBM implementation. What the sporting goods and collectibles company did know what that it was outgrowing both its front-end and back-end e-commerce solution, and it was outgrowing it fast.
Anaconda is no startup. The company has been in existence since 1902 and its e-commerce business started in 1996 (a life time ago in Internet years). Still from a technology standpoint, the company knew it was limiting itself. "We were a mom and pop operation we had a proprietary front end and simple backend hosted at a local ISP," Rob Meyer, director of Internet Services. Meyer said the system was "functional," but the limitations were becoming more evident as the e-business continued to grow each year.
Meyer said that the company has 150-200 employees, but only four people are devoted the Web part of the business. "We're pretty small. I couldn't focus on things like marketing and promotions. I really didn't have the time."
On the front end, each of Anaconda Sports three stores was treated as a separate entity. Microsoft Access (and later SQL Server) was on the backend. The Microsoft database was "getting pounded during our busy season. We were growing out of control and looking for an out-of-the-box solution that would handle promotion, marketing as well as the backend."
How does a small business move from using Microsoft technology to IBM and Linux? In the case of Ananconda Sports the decision was spurred by SCS Inc., an IBM partner, who was at the right place at the right time. "We did not have an existing relationship with SCS. They basically contacted us at the right time, because it was at a point where we were shopping around for a better e-commerce package."
Meyer said his perception of IBM going into the initial meeting was that Big Blue system meant big bucks. "To be honest, I had reservations going in to our initial meeting with SCS because I thought 'this is IBM. They'll be way out of our price range.' "
Meyer said the company was pleasantly surpised that Websphere Commerce wasn't cost-prohibitive. "It was the best of both worlds in that we could have access to a program as powerful as WebSphere at a price much below what we anticipated."
Part of that affordability came from the fact that SCS recommended a Linux implementation of WebSphere Commerce. "SCS knew we'd be expanding, adding major league teams and leagues [e.g., Anaconda also has a store dedicated to Babe Ruth League Baseball]. We needed to have the capacity. Linux saved us money because there is no licensing fee, but expandabilty was more important," Meyer said. "But it definitely helps that it saved us money."
Meyer said the decision to move to WebSphere Commerce was made in mid-March and the system was deployed on May 9. Of course no implementation of new system, especially when you are converting your entire e-commerce operation, goes perfectly. "Moving from Microsoft to DB2 was something we just had to get in there and do. There were a couple of other glitches for the first month or two. We worked around the clock," Meyer said.
Anaconda worked closely with SCS because not only was it the IBM reseller, but also because it was the hosting provider and Meyer likes it that way. "We don't host anything. Never wanted to do that. SCS handles all the servers."
Outside of the initial conversion, "we really haven't had any problems." The one thing Meyer said he wished he did differently was to wait longer. "We upgraded at the wrong time, our busy season. We should have waited until summer."
What Anaconda likes best is exactly what IBM is trying to sell SMBs convenience, cost-effectiveness and integration. "I know it sounds like a cliche, but I like the out-of-the-box features. We have three stores and one backend system." Meyer also said its WebSphere system ties into its proprietary inventory system. "Our customer service people adore the product. We have three different stores, but just one interface." Meyer said the system also integrates well with Verisign, which is important, he said, because the customer service people were making several calls a day to verify credit card information.
Meyer's Web team is still a small part of Anaconda Sports employee base, but the group feels pretty big. "We were a mom and pop store, now we're not."
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