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Centra scores distance learning deal

Web-based collaboration software maker Centra, headed by a former Lotus executive, beats out groupware giant Lotus in a deal for distance learning technology.

Web-based collaboration software maker Centra, headed by a former Lotus executive, has beat out groupware giant Lotus in a deal for distance learning technology.

PricewaterhouseCoopers said today it will partner with Centra to incorporate the software company's Symposium distance learning package into their application deployment services, enabling project collaboration, virtual classrooms, and training.

The deal may be an indication of just how rough the road might be for Lotus as it attempts to gain market share for its Learning Space technology.

The partnership represents a significant loss to Lotus, which has been heavily promoting a new version of LearningSpace, code-named LearningSpace Live, which incorporates real-time collaboration technology recently acquired from DataBeam.

Lotus said it did not compete for the deal.

However, Debi Steinbacher, managing director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, told CNET News.com that a tool and technology team did in fact evaluate Lotus LearningSpace with Databeam's Learning Server.

"We had a list of criteria. We looked for a product that could support a virtual classroom. Learning Server can do this, but we needed something that is proven. Learning Server is a good product, but our evaluation standards demanded something different," Steinbacher said.

The deal is "a great win for Centra because PricewaterhouseCoopers has large SAP and Seybold practices, which gives Centra an opportunity to bring their product to a larger audience," said Judy Andeloro, an analyst at AMR Research.

Boston-based Centra was founded in 1995 by the former head of research and development at Lotus, Leon Navickas. The company specializes in real-time group collaboration software.

The Centra Partner Program will provide system integrators, training, and support partners to assist PricewaterhouseCoopers in the implementation of the Symposium technology.

According to Debi Steinbacher, a PricewaterhouseCoopers executive, the company looked for an enterprise-class collaboration company that had extensive experience delivering applications and could "address the needs of complex, global enterprise deployment."

The two companies said the partnership will specifically provide distance learning capabilities for training customers from geographically dispersed sites. PricewaterhouseCoopers said it will also use the Centra technology internally for project collaboration and training delivery over the firm's intranet.

In addition, PricewaterhouseCoopers Virtual University, a Web-based training program since 1996, will use Symposium to provide internal training and support to more than 9,000 members of the company's global SAP, PeopleSoft, and Oracle support services.

Financial details of the partnership were not disclosed.