The battle for the Internet business market intensified this week with IBM establishing an electronic commerce think tank to "provide headlights for the way this world is going".
The system giant is investing $10 million in a New York-based research group, consisting of research scientists, executives and academics, from inside and outside IBM. The thinktank will explore the steadily expanding ecommerce market and will start work in January next year.
The institute will be directed by Stuart Feldman, who also heads IBM?s research initiatives in Internet technology. Feldman said the thinktank will deliver practical solutions for ecommerce but its main role will be as a crystal-ball gazer for this embryonic market. ?Over the short term, some projects are very likely to lead to IBM products,? he said. ?But long term were looking to provide headlights for the way this world is going. The area is still in its early adolescence.?
Areas under research include the development of cyber auctions and electronic promotions, plus more futuristic projects such as information cities, which could emerge in cyberspace 20 years from now.
Currently, profits in the ecommerce market are relatively small, but IBM predicts that ecommerce will account for half of all retailing by 2015. Since no one company dominates at present, the market opportunity is huge, with IBM facing fierce challenges from Microsoft and Oracle.
In an attempt to diversify its product range away from its core hardware business, IBM has been marketing itself as the leading player in the Internet-based ecommerce market, releasing network servers and business applications such as Net.Commerce.
These instincts will pay off, believes Mark Stevenson, an IT analyst at research company Ovum and author of a an online commerce report. ?Ecommerce will be the next big thing in computing,? he predicts. ?The last great boom was in ooperating systems and IBM lost out to Microsoft.
He points to the slow-burning effect of IBM?s recent ecommerce advertising campain, ?When you say e-commerce they want the next words to be IBM.?
The new thinktank is the latest addition to IBM's worldwide research programme, which was founded in 1945 and employs 2,600 people.
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