Ask IBM's Bart Lautenbach if "e-business" is still a viable word and he answers with an emphatic "Yes.""It's a powerful word," he says. "And the e-business relationship is expanding. It's not simply about exchanging dollars on the Web. There's a much broader trend happening."Lautenbach, who is director of IBM WebSphere Commerce, says that retailers are just now beginning to understand the power of what can be done online. He points to the strides made by some of his customers, including Recreation Equipment Inc. (REI) and Things Remembered.REI, he says, uses every avenue to attract and retain customers, including online, catalog, stores and even in-store kiosks. Lautenbach says the company does not limit their customers to experiencing one interface at a time.REI customers can go into the store, see and feel items and then order them from in-store kiosks. "Web business is just one part of an entire relationship strategy the company has."He adds that the success is clear. REI found over a 24-month-period that its sales were up 48% by using three channels to work with customers than simply two, he says.Lautenbach also points to the recent brainchild of Things Remembered. He says the company needed to expand its online offerings but was beginning to think it had maxed out its online store.The company is trying a new approach: partnering with other online stores through tight order integration. The first relationship it built was with 1-800-Flowers, allowing customers to buy a personalized engraved vase, for instance, with a flower purchase. Customers, while on the 1-800-Flowers Web site, can buy a vase furnished by Things Remembered without having to go to the Things Remembered site or pay for two separate orders.Lautenbach says this type of sales partnership was enabled using Web services such as XML and the Simple Object Application Protocol. By meshing the ordering systems and making the back-end transparent to customers, the two companies were able to build out both their businesses.And once they learn from this project, they can cookie cutter it to fit other partnerships.IBM is encouraging this kind of ingenuity as a next step in fueling e-business. In fact, Lautenbach says Web services are going to be critical in pushing it to the next level.In the next newsletter, we'll discuss some of the ways Lautenbach says companies need to improve their sites.