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Suite helps pay the bills

Just In Time Solutions releases new software for billers that lets them present and receive payment for consumers' monthly bills.

In a move that could challenge Microsoft's joint venture with payment processor First Data Corporation, Just In Time Solutions has released new software for billers that lets them present and receive payment for consumers' monthly bills.

JIT Solution's approach lets consumers view their bills at the biller's Web site or at a bill consolidator's site. An aggregator might display notices from several billers so a consumer wouldn't have to visit each biller's site.

"Bill presentment may finally have reached its time," said Geri Spieler, e-commerce analyst at Gartner Group. "It makes a lot of sense for companies that do repeated billings or monthly billers like utilities, including telecommunications companies. The question is, from the billers' point of view, 'How do I want to do that?'"

Added Nancy Tubbs of Intuit, a JIT Solutions customer: "The market is posed for growth. I'm pretty sure every major phone company is looking into or is testing online bill presentment. It's very much behind the scenes, but it's very active."

JIT's software would send billing data to a bill consolidator's site. When consumers click on a "more details" button, they would be transmitted to the biller's Web site for up-to-date information. The biller then could communicate directly with the customer to sell additional services or relay other information.

The company's approach also differs from that of CyberCash and BlueGill Technologies. BlueGill's software lets companies post bills on their own Web site, thus keeping customer data rather than sharing it with a service bureau like MSFDC, Microsoft's venture with First Data Corporation.

"This sounds like kind of a hybrid," said Scott Smith, e-commerce analyst at Current Analysis.

"We think home banking Web sites, personal finance sites like Quicken.com will present bills," said Brian Valente, director of marketing at JIT Solutions. He speculates that portal sites like Yahoo may have similar plans, and Netscape executives have expressed interest bill presentment as well.

Matt Cone of MSFDC calls his service "an outsourced Internet bill provider" that offers billers an option to build bill presentment capabilities in-house. "We are managing the technology to present rich bills, payment processing for paying them, and doing that on a confidential basis for billers."

JIT's BillCast suite presents interactive bills and sends billing information securely over the Internet or through personal finance software. It supports Open Financial Exchange (OFX), an emerging protocol for exchange of financial data first promoted by Microsoft, Intuit, and CheckFree. JIT uses OFX to communicate between billers and bill consolidators.

BillCast software comes in two components: BillCast OFX server and BillCast Presentation Server. BillCast OFX Server allows for the exchange of bill-related OFX transactions through multiple channels or "consolidators" and has been tested with bill consolidators CheckFree and Intuit.

The BillCast Presentation Server, designed to work with the BillCast OFX Server, dynamically renders bills into HTML for viewing using any standard Web browser. It gives biller control over branding, layout, design, and content of bill details and comes with software tools to simplify authoring and staging bill templates.

BillCast runs on both the Windows NT and Sun Solaris platforms. Both support Oracle, Sybase, and Informix databases and use Netscape Enterprise Server version 3.5 or later. BillCast OFX Server, now shipping, is priced to start at $150,000; BillCast Presentation Server will start at $50,000 when it's available after July 1.