Big integrators cash in

PricewaterhouseCoopers, Andersen Consulting and others are leading the charge to build e-business hubs
Written by Ben Elgin, Contributor

With the boom in e-business exchanges propelling vendors like Commerce One, Ariba, i2 Technologies and Oracle to staggering heights, a number of well-placed systems integrators are also cashing in on the windfall.

The concept of business-to-business (B2B) marketplaces got a big shot in the arm late last week, when 50 consumer product mammoths, including PepsiCo, Proctor & Gamble and Kraft Foods, agreed to create an e-business hub that will connect the companies to suppliers and partners over the Internet.

While such online marketplaces promise to save companies serious money by streamlining supply chains, they also present a huge opportunity for integrators that build e-business hubs. And for all the hype surrounding pure-play Web integrators, it appears old-school outfits like PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Andersen Consulting and Computer Sciences are leading the charge.

PwC, for instance, snared the lead development role for the new 50-company hub, providing business strategy, design and consulting services. Reportedly, the channel behemoth also has 100 consultants deployed at General Motors, helping it realign its business for the massive automotive exchange it is building with competitors Ford and DaimlerChysler. PwC officials did not return calls for comment.

In some cases, these channel giants, with their tens of thousands of IT consultants, may be better equipped to build massive sites than their upstart Web competitors. Moreover, players like PwC and Andersen have reams of experience with legacy systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) packages, which most Fortune 1000 corporations use as the backbone of their technology blueprints.

"The 'big five' are a lot more motivated in this space," said Ariba vice president of global partners, Andy Moss. Part of the reason, he said, is that many e-business exchanges spring up from standard e-procurement projects, where many of these players have a large presence.

Nonetheless, a few gritty, e-integrator upstarts are taking a stab at this high potential market. C-Bridge Internet Solutions, for one, is currently working on six exchanges, according to chief executive Joe Bellini, who came over from e-business software maker i2 Technologies nine months ago to tap that opportunity. "In the new economy, every company is going to be involved in an exchange in some way or another," said Bellini, who predicts 50 percent of C-Bridge's business will come from e-business exchanges. "That's the reason I came to C-Bridge -- there's an incredible market opportunity here."

Perhaps C-Bridge's biggest project in the hopper is a Chevron-backed hub called RetailersMarketXchange.com. The 300-person Web integrator also recently inked a deal to build CleanWise.com, a janitorial supplies hub. "We're providing the implementation, and we bring in hardware and software partners, as well as a hosting partner," said Bellini, who tapped USinternetworking to provide hosting for the CleanWise.com hub. "But we're the general contractor."

Others, like hybrid ASP integrator Xuma, are trying to ride the coattails of the "big five" into some of these mammoth projects. The San Francisco-based upstart has inked a deal with PwC, where PwC will build the central hub, and Xuma will target the thousands of suppliers and partners that need to connect to this marketplace.

Ed Chuang, Xuma's vice president of marketing, said "[PwC] may be focused on the centre[of B2B exchanges], but they won't be able to bring 40,000 suppliers into the marketplaces without some help."

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