The most complex part of b-to-b e-commerce might be making it simple to find things. That's the thinking of Vality Technology Inc., which last week released software that it says will perform more effective product searches on e-commerce sites.
Vality's Integrity eSearch software includes code that will pull product listings out of a company's existing database and put them in highly searchable format.
A bullish Stephen Hendrick, VP of application development tools for International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass., said Vality could prove a competitive advantage to industrial-parts suppliers seeking to differentiate themselves in Internet trading exchanges and buying consortiums. "What Vality has here is unique in the industry," Hendrick says.
Founded in 1987, Boston-based Vality has more than 400 customers for its data engineering services. In other words, it has long massaged data stored in corporate warehouses to ensure accuracy. There, it allows companies to drill down to the most detailed fact, such as the number of blue shirts with cuffs sold in Lansing, Mich., in July.
Last year, the company began work on its e-commerce search engine. Vality claims its technology is distinct because it has a high tolerance for spelling variations, does not require companies to place products in categories and handles all forms of what the industry calls "noisy data."
"We saw a major opportunity for a solution that allows your catalog to be searchable without having to do that time-sensitive cleanup work up front," says Stephen Brown, Vality VP of product strategy.
Marketing executives increasingly seek search engines as an integrated component of their overall e-commerce platform. Norma Schroder, senior analyst for Dataquest, San Jose, Calif., says a partnership between Vality and a vendor such as Oracle Corp., Ariba Technologies or Commerce One would do wonders for adoption.
"You have to have [a search engine] that returns what you wanted," Schroder says, "as opposed to what you wanted buried below 30 other things." She, too, endorsed the technology.
A crowded field
Vality will face competition. AltaVista Business Solutions, San Mateo, Calif., signed a deal to bundle its search engine with Ariba's b-to-b platform. Saqqara Systems Inc., San Jose, has partnered with Commerce One. Oracle has search capabilities embedded in its database applications, and available through partnerships. And Requisite Technology Inc., Westminster, Colo., has a catalog platform with advanced searching.
"It is a crowded field filled with first-generation players," says Steve Hershberg, Vality director of product management.
Vality will try to break new ground with b-to-b intermediaries. The software, priced beginning at $35,000, can handle many different vendors at once. It already has sold its technology to SciQuest.com Inc. and VerticalNet Inc. subsidiary NECX.
"Our products are scientific in nature, complicated, multi-syllable and difficult to spell," says Rob Fusillo, CIO of SciQuest.com, Research Triangle Park, N.C., a b-to-b e-marketplace for pharmaceutical, chemical and biotechnology products. "Vality has proven tremendously valuable."
Fusillo ditched another search engine, which he won't name, a few months ago to go with a prototype of Integrity. He says the nimble software navigates through more than a million products from more than 1,000 suppliers. Moreover, creation of new vendor catalogs has proven quicker, he says.
Vality's Brown says b-to-b intermediaries have a particular problem: reaching multiple suppliers. "Search engines return too much data, or too little," he says. "You can't control the way a user might type in a request. We're trying to provide a search robust enough that it doesn't matter."