IBM on Tuesday said it has agreed to acquire PureEdge Solutions Inc., a maker of standards-based electronic forms that IBM plans to integrate across its portfolio of collaboration technology.
Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but IBM officials said in a teleconference with reporters that the decision to buy the Canadian company was based on several factors.
First was PureEdge's adoption of XForms, a data-format standard developed by the World Wide Web Consortium and supported by IBM. PureEdge has also developed products tailored to the needs of government, banking, insurance, healthcare and other industries using electronic forms in order to comply with requirements of regulatory agencies.
"The PureEdge technology is unique in the marketplace in their ability to address high-end industries' vertical requirements," Ken Bisconti, vice president of IBM's workplace, portal and collaboration software, said.
PureEdge has been a partner of IBM's since 2002, and much of its technology complements IBM's portal and content management technology. As a result of the acquisition, IBM plans to integrate PureEdge across its portfolio of Lotus software, which includes Notes and Domino; and its WebSphere Portal. The first combined products would be available early next year.
Electronic forms have become a key component in the move among corporations toward automating business processes. E-forms are becoming the employee interface to business applications, displaying inventory figures, customer data, pricing and other corporation information, IBM said.
PureEdge has built technology that enables companies to customize forms to their businesses and display the information through a desktop application or web browser. The flexibility of the PureEdge technology is based on its adoption of extensible markup language, or XML, which is the key component of XForms.
IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y., resells PureEdge tools and software through its Global Services division.
A major IBM competitor in the market for content management and workplace collaboration technology is Microsoft Corp., which also uses XML in its software, but does not support XForms. Microsoft is focused on using its products in conjunction with its Office suite of desktop productivity applications, a major revenue source for the Redmond, Wash., company.
Mark Upson, chief executive of PureEdge, argued that Microsoft was going against the industry in not adopting XForms, which are supported by other major business-application vendors, such as Oracle and SAP AG.
"(XForms) is very much becoming, and will be, the dominant standard in data capture and data interchange across industries," said Upson, who will be joining IBM following the acquisition.
Software companies adopting XForms will make it easier for businesses to share electronic forms across computer systems, Upson said.
Rob Helm, analyst for researcher Directions on Microsoft, said the software company is taking a different approach to electronic forms, encouraging customers to use HTML for building simple, web-based forms, and its own products and tools for developing complex business forms.
The upside in Microsoft's approach is that it can provide capabilities for Windows that may not yet be available in the emerging XForms standard, Helm said. The downside for the customer, however, may be that this approach ties it to Microsoft's operating system and tools.
Nevertheless, the bottom line is Microsoft has no good reason to support XForms at this time.
"In the end, Microsoft doesn't have an incentive to support standards that don't already have some critical mass," Helm said. "And it's not clear to me that XForms has reached that point."