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Oracle unveils billing software

The company's been working on the product for more than a year even as the market for billing software has exploded.

Oracle, leading a flurry of online billing announcements today. jumped into the burgeoning market of vendors pursuing banks, billing services, and billers so they can present bills online and let customers pay them electronically.

Oracle's entry into the online billing market, underscored by CEO Larry Ellison's speech today to some 8,000 bankers at a Las Vegas conference, has been in the works for at least a year, as reported in May.

Version 1.0 of Oracle Internet Bill & Pay, originally code-named Tribeca, is being supported by two other vendors in the online billing market, CyberCash and CheckFree, emphasizing the complex nature of the so-called bill-paying and presentment market.

CyberCash said its online credit card service and e-checks, called Pay Now, will be integrated into Oracle's offering. CyberCash's piece is targeted at wholesale banks that cater to billers and to billers themselves.

In addition to supporting Oracle's product, online payment service CheckFree also said a new version of its E-Bill billing and payment service will be available next year. The enhanced service will go into beta testing next spring, with full launch due by late summer.

In conjunction with the retail banking show this week, Microsoft's TransPoint (formerly MSFDC) joint venture with payment processor First Data Corp. and CitiBank released survey results that showed consumers with Internet connections are eager to use online billing.

Survey firm Market Facts contacted 1,000 U.S. households in the past 30 days for TransPoint, finding that consumers would prefer to go to a single Web site to pay all their bills--a position that happens to jibe with TransPoint's approach.

Nearly 90 percent of consumers interested in viewing and paying bills online said they would prefer to do so at only one Web site, but they split over whose site they'd want to visit. About 40 percent of respondents prefer to go to a bank's Web site, 19 percent favor a biller's Web site, and 12 percent would choose an Internet portal.

Internet billing has two components--bill presentment involves delivering bills online to customers while payment means customers can pay electronically rather than with a paper check. Bills can be delivered via a biller's Web site, email, home banking services from a bank, or portal sites.

Oracle and TransPoint aren't the only big guns aiming at the online billing market. IBM-led Integrion Financial Network is active, and Netscape Communications announced online billing softwarelast month that will be shipped next year.

With Netscape's pending acquisition by America Online, the marketing of Netscape's $250,000 billing software is up in the air, although Sun Microsystems, with its strength in financial services, will sell the Netscape product.

But 14 million AOL users would make a prime target for any biller or bank offering bill-paying or billing services.

Among other players, Just-in-Time Solutions provides software for online billing. Personal finance firm Intuit is exploring various vendors for its users to pay their bills, including a partnership with Oracle rival Sybase.

Oracle's Internet Bill & Pay software, version 1.0, is being announced Wednesday at a banking show and is targeted at businesses such as banks that want to provide online billing services to their customers. It allows companies that bill customers for goods or services both to present bills and to receive payments online.

It will allow banks, service providers, and portals to consolidate bills from multiple billers and act as a single online access point for consumers--a position avidly sought by banks but one where portal sites like Netscape's Netcenter also hope to play a role.

The promise of online billing is that it can cut costs by saving postage and handling costs and generate new revenue for billers or bill consolidators through selling additional services or advertising like billing inserts many utilities use.

Scandinavian phone carrier Telia is using Oracle's software, and CheckFree is partnering with Oracle.

The new software is in pilot testing and is expected to ship by June. It includes an Internet Bill & Pay cartridge, Oracle's application server, a restricted-use license of the Oracle8 database, and Oracle's Reports Server tools. No pricing has been released.

Separately, Oracle announced the availability of its Payment Server 1.1, an integrated payment-processing solution that allows businesses to add e-commerce payment processing and other business programs.