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Oracle plans bill payment software

Oracle enters the market for letting consumers view and pay their monthly bills on Web sites.

Oracle is joining the fray to provide technology to present and pay bills online, entering an emerging market for letting consumers view and pay their monthly bills on Web sites.

An Oracle software product for conducting online bill payment and presentment, code-named Tribeca, is in the works, the database giant confirmed. Oracle declined to provide any details on the project, which has apparently been underway since mid-1997.

Tribeca, written in Java as an Oracle cartridge, is expected to debut in some form by year's end. Cartridges plug into Oracle's database server and add specific features. Tribeca will most likely also require Oracle's Internet Application Server 4.0, due next month.

The first public hint of Oracle's interest in bill presentment came in December 1997, when Oracle senior vice president Beatriz Infante, was quoted in an Intuit press release as saying: "Electronic bill presentment is an excellent example of network computing and its benefit for the consumer, and Oracle intends to participate in this area through the support of Open Financial Exchange (OFX) specification."

Tribeca would put Oracle into head-on competition with IBM-led Integrion Financial Network, Microsoft's MSFDC joint venture with payment processor First Data Corporation, and online payment vendor CheckFree.

Yesterday, Banc One announced it would work with Integrion and CheckFree on an integrated program for bill presentment, bill payment, and electronic banking. Integrion is a consortium of IBM, Visa, and 18 major North American banks, while CheckFree provides bill-paying services for many financial institutions.

Earlier this week, Just In Time Solutions released new bill presentment software for billers that lets them present monthly bills online for consumers to pay.

Bill presentment involves putting bills normally mailed to customers on a Web site--thus saving postage and paper-handling costs. Online bill presentment also gives billers the option of trying to sell other services, or even to sell advertising to other firms that would want to reach such a targeted audience.

Actually paying bills online is a separate but related technology--and one becoming more common through banks, services like CheckFree, and personal finance software.

Major billers are eyeing online bill presentment as a major cost-saving opportunity. AT&T is working on online billing, and utilities like Consolidated Edison are building such systems too.

Oracle's interest in online billing means the market is taking off, said Nancy Tubbs of Intuit, which uses Oracle database software. "This is a strong industry if a company like Oracle wants to participate in it. We hope to work with them."

Oracle declined to discuss details of its Tribeca initiative, but Mike Lanza, CEO of competitor Just In Time, said Oracle has already missed its initial deadline by eight months.

"I know people who have worked on it since August or September of last year," said Lanza, who said Oracle made informal inquiries about buying his company last year. "I've seen them go up blind alleys and change strategies. I've seen a couple of false starts and missteps. They don't have a lot of momentum."

Lanza welcomes Oracle to the market--if it has a coherent strategy and product offering. Just In Time's customers include Bank of America, AT&T, and International Billing Services, which sends more than half of the nation's cable TV bills for cable companies.

MSFDC has five financial institutions testing its system--Banc One, Wells Fargo Bank, Key Bank, Norwest>, and Merrill Lynch--and about a dozen billers.

MSFDC positions itself as an outsourcing services for banks, but because MSFDC will enable consumers to pay their bills from MSFDC's Web site, some bankers view the effort as a potential and unwelcome competitor.

"Banks will act as aggregators of bills from multiple sources--MSFDC, CheckFree, and some billers that go it alone and use a system like JIT's," said Matthew Cone of MSFDC. "Billers will choose to either work with an outsourcer like MSFDC or do it in-house."

MSFDC will charge approximately the price of a postage stamp for its services.

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