Is it time to take the plunge?

Is it time to take the plunge?
By Tim Ouellette

IBM has been promoting the AS/400 as an E-commerce machine heavily for the past few years, but a good number of AS/400 shops still have not tested the waters yet.

For example, a survey last year found more than half of AS/400 shops were not attempting any e-commerce projects at all. But now with Year 2000 issues behind them, many more shops may have time to take on an e-commerce project.

The first step on the road to e-commerce is to look at what systems you have running and what experience your staff possesses with those machines.

"AS/400 customers have multiple choices in this regard," says Pierre Fricke, an analyst with D.H. Brown Associates, Inc., a consultancy in Port Chester, N.Y.

"You can run e-commerce applications natively on the AS/400 if you do not have any Window NT boxes or personnel in house. Or you can buy the integrated PC server that runs NT right on an AS/400, giving you the management benefits of running everything off one box," Fricke says.

From there, the development begins. Fricke recommends taking it slow by creating a static Web site to practice posting information about your company, group or division. "I would not go from nothing to e-commerce immediately," Fricke says.

After the static pages have worked out, you can then move to a simple online ordering process and finally to more complex business-to-business e-commerce relationships, Fricke says.

A good way to test these efforts is with IBM's Websphere web application server, which comes with OS/400 Version 4 Release 3. One benefit of trying Websphere is that it includes cross platform development tools, Fricke says. This means an outside group can design an e-commerce application and Web site on a platform they are comfortable with. They can then convert it all back to native AS/400 code.

There are other web application servers available on the market, but right now IBM has only made Websphere available to work with the IBM HTTP Server that comes with OS/400.

Ouellette is a freelance writer in Scarborough, Maine.

This was first published in June 2000

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