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Vertical Thinking

IBM rolls out four more industry-specific middleware offerings
Taking the next step in its vertical-market strategy, IBM last week debuted middleware packages tailored for health-care, life-sciences, retail, and telecommunications companies.

Companies such as Ritz Interactive Inc., which operates 20 E-commerce sites ranging from RitzCamera.com to BoatersWorld.com, are eager for vendors to come up with systems more finely tuned to their industries. Ritz Interactive uses IBM WebSphere and a multichannel management package to link its Web sites and integrate them with back-office inventory and fulfillment systems. IBM has been steadily integrating WebSphere and the other middleware Ritz uses to run its operations, leaving less integration work for Ritz to do, says CEO Fred Lerner. "It was a little more painful to do before," he says. Ritz still must integrate third-party search software into its system, but Lerner hopes IBM will add that to its vertical-industry packages in the future.

IBM'S INDUSTRY PLAY
Business issues that each of the industry-specific middleware is designed to address include:
RETAIL Merchandising; item, inventory, and multichannel management; store operations; advertising, marketing, and promotions management
HEALTH CARE Patient and payer portals, data aggregation for clinical decisions, administration of insurance plans, transmission of health-care data
LIFE SCIENCES Information asset management, clinical-trial management, clinical genomics
TELECOM Integration of operational and business support, contact-center operations, mobile-device services, third-party content, next-generation network services
Data: IBM
In December, IBM signaled its intention to move away from producing generic software and switching to configuring middleware for specific industries. The packages combine software from IBM's WebSphere, DB2, Tivoli, Lotus, and Rational product lines. Early last month, IBM debuted systems designed for banking, insurance, and financial-services companies. Next month, IBM is expected to unveil middleware packages for the automotive, electronics, government, energy and utilities, and consumer packaged-goods markets.

The six new retail systems include an inventory-management package to help retailers automate inventory and track shipments by integrating data generated by radio-frequency identification technology with data from other sources. RFID is gaining ground in retail channels because of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. mandates that suppliers adopt it.

IBM's health-care industry offerings include portals for patients and payers, as well as software to manage clinical data and health records for decision-making and collaboration. The life-sciences packages include tools for managing clinical trials or genomics data. Telecom offerings include systems to integrate operational and business-support systems or to provide services to mobile phones.