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HP, Oracle partner to develop e-speak technology

Hewlett-Packard has coaxed Oracle aboard its "e-services" initiative, as both companies announced today a joint program to develop and use HP's e-speak technology.

SAN FRANCISCO--Hewlett-Packard has coaxed Oracle aboard its "e-services" initiative, as both companies announced today a joint program to develop and use HP's e-speak technology.

Under the agreement, Oracle will optimize its 8i database software to use the e-speak technology, which HP describes as a way to automate business transactions on the Internet, said Ann Livermore, chief executive of HP's enterprise computing business. In addition, HP and Oracle will jointly develop and test e-speak.

The Internet is the biggest change to hit businesses in 100 years as everyone jumps to connect buyers and sellers, said Oracle chief operating officer Ray Lane at a news conference today. But to connect all these computers, "there needs to be a standard way for applications to talk to each other," he said, and that technology is e-speak.

E-services benefits
The e-services plan, which includes e-speak technology, is the centerpiece of HP's effort to benefit from the growth of the Internet. With e-services, HP has engaged in several multimillion deals with companies--such as Wal-Mart--that it believes will make money off Internet business transactions. E-speak is a way to guide those transactions into a realm where HP can benefit.

HP will benefit from e-services because its servers are well-suited to the combination of both traditional transactional environments and the new Internet realm, Livermore said. In addition, the company has sophisticated consulting services to help design computing systems and support services to keep it up and running, she added.

As part of HP's e-services plan, the computing giant will provide a company with its hardware and services in return for a slice of the company's revenues. Within the agreement announced today, Oracle will be the default database that HP ships with those products, said Rajiv Gupta, head of HP's e-speak division.

No money changed hands as a part of the agreement, the companies said. Oracle's investment in the initiative over the next year will be in the millions of dollars, Lane said.

Though HP's stock has soared to new highs in recent months, benefiting more directly from the Internet will be a tough turnaround for the company, given the strong positions of IBM and Sun Microsystems. HP has acknowledged it missed out on the first wave of demand for Internet products; and even Nick Earle, head of marketing for Livermore's group, said, "There is no second-mover advantage on the Net."

Pushing the e-speak standard
HP is walking a fine line in distributing e-speak. While the company wants e-speak to spread far and wide, HP isn't helping its competitors optimize their products for it, Livermore said. "We're not going to assist Sun or IBM optimize anything they have," she said, though she believes that those companies will decide embracing e-speak will be in their interests.

HP is beginning to change some of its own business over to the e-services realm, Livermore said. "HP is a leading customer of the network," which the company has begun to use for procuring its own supplies. HP gave computer systems to and in return gets a share of the revenues from the site.

Earlier this month, FedEx announced it's using Ariba to manage computer hardware and software purchasing. Later FedEx will use it for more sophisticated products and services such as leasing vehicles and renting office space.

Though Ariba doesn't currently use e-speak, it will in the future, said HP's Joe Beyers.

Livermore described e-speak as "the universal language for dynamic brokering," software that resides on servers that can "discover, broker, compose, and mediate services."

One big obstacle to spreading the e-speak technology is convincing developers to try it out and build it into their work, Lane said. Livermore concurred, saying that gaining access to Oracle's list of 400,000 developers is important.

The other hurdle is a deeper one, Livermore said: convincing companies that e-services is worthwhile, that they should buy computing services from other companies and make their own services available over the Internet.

More partners--especially ones the size of Oracle--won't hurt HP's efforts to spread e-speak. Though HP plans to release e-speak's programming blueprints for free, the agreement is "one of the most critical alliances in our e-services [initiative]," Livermore said.

E-speak doesn't compete with Sun's Jini or Microsoft's BizTalk software, Gupta said. Jini is a way to get devices to communicate within a network where they can trust each other, and BizTalk is a way to describe data, he said.

Though e-services has opened doors at Wal-Mart and elsewhere, the initiative so far hasn't resulted in much revenue, the company said yesterday.

Livermore declined to comment on Wal-Mart specifics. However, in an interview earlier today, Earle said Wal-Mart's Web site will use HP systems and BroadVision software. BroadVision--a company in which HP invested $35 million--sells software that monitors a Web surfer's behavior and tailors the pages to that experience.