b2b e-commerce, forrester wave
IBM is the top B2B e-commerce vendor, according to the first-ever Forrester Wave report on the field.

The report, “The Forrester Wave: B2B Commerce Suites, Q4 2013,” evaluated 66 criteria and identified the seven top providers. In addition to IBM, they include Commerce Server, SAP’s hybris, Insite Software, Intershop, NetSuite and Oracle Commerce. The report points out that, although the B2B e-commerce market in the US alone is more than twice that of the B2C e-commerce market, B2B is "far less mature" and less robust in terms of the online experience.

But that is changing, with companies beginning to invest significantly in the technology. Additionally, expectations are also increasing, not only looking for industrial strength performance but also customer experiences akin to those enjoyed by consumers, with the "Amazon experience" being the gold standard.

Partnering, Buying

Those kind of experiences involve not only clear user interface designs, but community features, 24x7x365 ordering, real-time customer service, expedited shipping when necessary and a full set of functionality for mobile devices. This is in addition to B2B's requirements for integration with back-office systems, fulfillment workflows and inventory management.

In fact, Forrester said that B2B systems are more than just a new channel for many companies, but have "become a way to transform a slow-growth off-line businesses into a high-growth online and multichannel enterprise." Many, in fact, are in the process of becoming companies that fulfill their sales orders primarily through their online e-commerce suites.

To meet this demand, the report points out that vendors are partnering with solution providers or buying the technologies they need. Key examples in recent years have been SAP's acquisition of hybris, Oracle's purchase of Art Technology Group, Endeca and FatWire Software, and IBM’s buying Sterling Commerce and Coremetrics. Perhaps most significantly, Amazon has entered the market with its AmazonSupply, using its global infrastructure to meet businesses’ needs, and Google Shopping for Suppliers has emerged as a referral site to qualified B2B suppliers.

Grouped into Three Categories

While this is the first Forrester wave report on B2B e-commerce, the research firm has regularly published evaluations of the B2C market. Most of those criteria have been used for evaluating these B2B vendors, but with such additional emphases as the ability to take bids, dealer management, product information management, order management systems and such specific needs as special tools for field-based sales reps.

All of the seven vendors in the assessment have a product that supports complex B2B selling channels, a track record of supporting B2B at large companies, interest from Forrester clients and annual revenue of at least US$ 20 million. The vendors were grouped into three categories -- IBM, SAP’s hybris, Oracle Commerce and Intershop 7.3 are the top Leaders, Strong Performers are Insite Software, NetSuite and Intershop once again for its Enfinity Suite, and Commerce Server takes the lone Contender position. No vendors were assessed as being in Forrester’s fourth category of Risky Bets.

Leaders: IBM, hybris, Oracle Commerce and Intershop 7.3

IBM was cited for its leadership in robust B2B commerce, order management and CPQ (configure price quote) capabilities, although its web content management and product information management were lacking. Its top three products -- Websphere Commerce, Sterling CPQ and Sterling Order Management -- were described as a “formidable” for complex, global B2B commerce requirements. But the three products are not yet a single solution, and an integration partner will likely be needed.

The solution from hybris is described as a “framework rather than a complete out-of-the-box solution,” with a Java-based architecture, enterprise product content management and order management. “The plumbing kit is provided,” the report said, “but may not be fully installed or operational.” Forrester points out that SAP intends to build out this new member of its family, which was only formally acquired in August.

Oracle Commerce is built from such acquisitions as Art Technology Group’s strong B2B e-commerce capabilities, but the report notes that the offered external product information management (PIM), order orchestration package and ERP tools do not always integrate easily. The Commerce suite itself does not have strong order management or PIM capabilities.

Intershop offered two products to Forrester for evaluation, its new version 7 platform and its Enfinity Suite 6.4 legacy platform. The report said the newer version is “the strategic choice,” but the substantial functionality in the older version has not yet been completely moved over. Forrester said that Intershop version 7.3 placed in the Leaders category because of the company’s expertise in complex B2B situations, its B2B-oriented road map and advancements being offered in the new platform.

Strong Performers, Contender

In the Strong Performers set, Insite’s sole focus on B2B e-commerce, its differentiation of using a .NET-based solution, and its utilization as the front-end for such legacy systems as ERP and CRM set it apart. NetSuite’s SuiteCommerce integrated product suite targets both B2C and B2B customers, and offers catalog, pricing and order management. This all-in-oneness can be appealing to midmarket clients, although customization is problematic and larger customers can find that the suite duplicates much of their existing ERP or CRM solutions.

The report doesn’t make explicit why Intershop’s Enfinity Suite is a category down from the version 7, but most likely it’s because this product is the older of the two. Additionally, a comparative chart of the assessed products indicates a slightly lower score for Enfinity in several categories, compared to 7.3.

The sole Contender, Commerce Server, is an offshoot of Microsoft, and Forrester said the product is moving forward after years of dormancy. Commerce Server 10 is now separated from SharePoint, so it can be integrated with other .NET content management solutions, but it still has “major weaknesses” in order management, B2B-oriented features, content management and tools for business users.

Image courtesy of Chailalla (Shutterstock)