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Two Technology Giants Join Forces for New E-Business Software

October 2003
By Michael A. Robinson

Jupiter Lab helps companies, customers.

A pair of large information technology firms are not satisfied with operating in more than 100 countries around the globe. They have now set their sights on Jupiter.

Unisys Corporation, Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, recently opened the Team Jupiter Lab to allow customers to test drive a new generation of e-business software developed by Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, Washington. The companies are partners in the facility at a Unisys technology campus near Microsoft’s headquarters.

The timing is good for both companies because Microsoft is scheduled to unveil its latest e-business system, dubbed Jupiter, this fall. Jupiter is designed to open up a whole new world of e-business to even small companies. By then, the laboratory will have been operational for more than two months, meaning Unisys will have on-site case studies that demonstrate how the system works with several marquee clients. In addition, Microsoft will have distributed enough copies of the beta version of Jupiter to equip an army of developers.

The beta version of BizTalk Server 2004 that delivers Jupiter’s functions became available early last June, and by mid-August Microsoft had handed out more than a quarter million copies at trade shows and developer conferences and through its vendor network.

Jupiter integrates Microsoft’s BizTalk Server, Commerce Server and Content Management Server into a single solution that connects partners, employees and customers with information and processes. The idea behind Jupiter is to solve some of the fundamental problems of e-business systems, which are often too complex, too costly, riddled with redundant features and resistant to adding new components as company needs change. The technology represents a substantial investment by Microsoft in solving these problems with one overall system.

Company officials decline to reveal how much they have invested in Jupiter, but they say the system is one of the key priorities in the company’s research and development efforts on which it spends roughly $5 billion a year.

Iain Grant, director of the Microsoft Solutions practice at Unisys, says his company has two main goals with the Jupiter Lab. Unisys wants to bring in valued customers for up to a week at a time to help them prototype their e-business processes on the Microsoft system. Unisys officials also will use the facility to certify that software from independent vendors like SAP and Siebel will work in the new environment.

“This is a little more elaborate than an office with some computers,” Grant says. “It’s a real, full-blown customer lab. It has to look state-of-the-art, and it has to be state-of-the-art. We don’t want it to be a center of excellence, though, where you can come around and play and get kind of wooed with green blinking lights and red blinking lights. We really do want it to be more of a workshop, where customers can come in and do real work that they can take back to their places and leverage to build out solutions on their own systems.”

Microsoft officials say the alliance with Unisys can help pave the way for Jupiter’s acceptance because the investment by Unisys—an amount that also remains undisclosed—serves as an important independent validation of Jupiter’s promise. Trina Seinfeld, product manager for e-business servers, Microsoft, expresses the company’s enthusiasm. “We are excited that Unisys is making this sort of investment in our technology, that they really believe in the vision of where we are going.”

Seinfeld adds that Team Jupiter Lab “is really going to serve as a great competency center where we can point companies to this lab and know there is good expertise within Unisys to help customers start looking at BizTalk for building their solutions. We are looking forward to some good customer success stories to come through that lab.”

Though pricing is still to be determined, Unisys hopes the lab will pay for itself through fees the users and software vendors will pay for these value-added services, Grant says. The business units within the six key vertical markets Unisys serves—communications, financial services, government agencies, the media, transportation and a general category referred to as commercial—all have expressed interest in using the Jupiter Lab, he adds.

Unisys is known as one of the technology industry’s leading system integrators and also has strong expertise in servers and consulting. The company remains particularly successful in the public sector, which accounts for almost one-third of its revenues.

Industry analysts say the public sector focus proved helpful for Unisys in recent years as the downturn in technology spending hammered companies focused heavily on the commercial market. Company officials say their investment in Jupiter will underscore their emphasis on providing customers with digital blueprints that show exactly how information flows throughout the organization.

“The public sector is clearly a large part of what Unisys has always done,” Grant states, “and with the economy today, we’re very thankful for that because that is certainly one group that is spending money right now.” Key defense-related clients include the U.S. departments of the Army, Air Force and Navy; the Central Intelligence Agency; the Defense Intelligence Agency; the National Security Agency; and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Other major customers include DaimlerChrysler, NASDAQ, Verizon Communications and the Wall Street Journal.

Grant says several customers have already signed up to use the Jupiter Lab. He expects Jupiter to become popular with enterprise customers, many of whom are looking for a new e-business system that is both less expensive and easier to use.

Ironically, Microsoft hopes Jupiter will give it greater inroads into small companies, where e-business software is typically too expensive. As Microsoft officials like to point out, today’s e-business systems are for “the massive,” not the masses. In theory, they say, e-business should make every company more productive and more profitable by linking workers and by tying the company to the Internet, intranets and applications such as human resources and accounting. Since many small businesses hire technology-savvy workers or are technology-oriented organizations, it should be simple for just about any company to harness the power of e-business software, but this is hardly the case.

The reality is just the opposite, Microsoft officials say. One of the biggest challenges in any e-business environment is that a system is not only costly but also enormously complex. The rapid proliferation of new technologies greatly increases the challenges facing information managers and has introduced an entirely new set of problems to solve.

For instance, connecting new e-business solutions with legacy systems, creating links between buyers and suppliers, and setting up automated business processes that span systems is anything but a plug-and-play process. E-business software tends to encompass big, monolithic applications with too many redundant features.

If a client buys an e-business solution from two different vendors, there are often extensive overlapping features. This means clients constantly face the prospect of paying for functions they do not want or already have. Add stand-alone software from a third vendor and the result is a system with disparate units that cannot communicate.

All this complexity means hiring a large, dedicated information technology staff that spends a lot of time testing software, fixing bugs, installing updates and maybe even writing proprietary code. This overhead puts the full power of the e-business revolution out of the reach of most small companies.

Jupiter aims at addressing these issues. Microsoft wants Jupiter to become a ubiquitous application that not only a large organization such as Ford Motor Company would use, but so would its smallest vendor. Seinfeld projects that large enterprises would account for up to 80 percent of initial sales with that figure dropping to 60 percent over time.

Beginning this fall, Microsoft will introduce Jupiter in two phases. In phase one, customers will get support for business process management with process automation, workflow, integration technologies, business process execution language and integrated developer experience. The second set of services will debut in the first half of next year and center on commerce and content functionality. This entails content management, commerce services, catalog management, Web site management and analytics.

Microsoft officials say Jupiter focuses on four core design features. Business process management is the key to the truly connected business, and it is Jupiter’s fundamental tenet because a business process binds together a company’s workers, capital investments, customers and other constituents into a seamless whole. The second feature—integration—is necessary because an e-business system requires many tools and technologies so they must interact with one another or the company is not fully connected. Microsoft officials say the tools and components of Jupiter will integrate with each other and provide a common development, deployment, management and end-user experience.

The third element is interoperability, which means this system will work no matter what hardware or software a company now uses. Organizations often have decades’ worth of technology investments from mainframe and legacy systems that include customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning and relational databases. These are largely islands of data. With Jupiter, Microsoft aims to link these investments through XML Web services and application and technology adapters.

The final pieces are the components. Jupiter was designed to deliver these based on XML Web services standards, which are necessary to build a customized e-business solution that fits the unique needs of each client.

“This is a significant vision for Microsoft in the e-business space,” Seinfeld says. “We’re bringing together our integration technology and some of our enterprise portal technologies as well as making that information more accessible. This is just the first step toward that vision with BizTalk Server 2004.”