International Business Machines Corp. has jumped on the electronic commerce bandwagon with its recent introduction of new computer-network- based products and services.
The hardware giant unveiled a wide array of offerings aimed at enabling companies to manage and secure financial transactions sent over the Internet.
Following the path of other hardware powerhouses, such as Sun Microsystems Computer Corp., IBM is elbowing its way into the crowded but potentially lucrative Internet business.
Though IBM set up its Internet applications group more than a year ago, this series of announcements serves as evidence that IBM intends to make its mark on electronic commerce.
"You can expect to see us as a player across the board," said John Patrick, IBM's vice president for Internet applications.
Big Blue will be taking on the likes of Sun and Microsoft Corp. more aggressively in both networks and desktops through its recent bid to buy Lotus Development Corp., maker of the popular Notes software.
"Microsoft has done a very good job on the desktop," Mr. Patrick said. "But I think the future of information technology is in the network."
The Armonk, N.Y.-based vendor introduced a suite of Internet-access products and server software for its multimedia-capable annex, the World Wide Web. The products are designed to fit a variety of computing platforms. IBM has also developed application tools to help companies create and post home pages, which are information sites on the Web.
In addition, IBM expanded its Internet access capability through its Global Network and beefed up its security firewall and network integration and gateway products.
The hardware company even launched a new IT Security Consulting practice aimed at working with companies to create secure, open-network operations.
Perhaps IBM's most progressive move is the creation of its own protocol for handling secure multiparty transactions over the Internet. IBM announced it would team up with Europay International, the European payment system company, to develop an overall system for network-based electronic commerce using chip cards that carry a cash equivalent.
IBM's secure Internet protocol, called iKP, is already available. But the broader payment system - which would allow consumers to make purchases over the Internet using Europay's chip card technology - will not be ready for testing until sometime in 1996.
In throwing its hat in the electronic commerce ring, IBM is drawing on the strength of its long-standing relationship as a vendor to banks and other big companies. IBM officials are positioning the company as the most able integrator of its own mainframe legacy systems with desktop and network systems. The goal of such integration is to create secure, overarching infrastructures.
IBM already has been shopping its new products and services around to banks as well as to Internet service providers. The iKP secure transaction protocol, Mr. Patrick said, is "not mutually exclusive" and would fit quite neatly with many of the electronic commerce systems being developed by banks and other vendors.
So far, IBM's greatest success in getting banks on the Internet has been helping NationsBank Corp. create its home page.
But while IBM has been "fairly secretive" on the electronic commerce front until now, the company has been "gearing up for this for some time," said Adam Schoenfeld, a consultant with Jupiter Communications Co.
And, with supposed market leader Microsoft plagued by antitrust issues and all other rivals scrambling for position, IBM may have a golden opportunity.
"Microsoft's plans have been somewhat derailed," Mr. Schoenfeld said. "And while other companies like AT&T are getting in, IBM still has a big opening."
Although IBM may have yet to overcome a traditionally weak presence on the desktop, Mr. Schoenfeld said its bid to acquire the Lotus Notes package may help the mainframe maker gain a stronger foothold on that platform.