Verifone Inc.'s recently organized Centum Consultancy is teaming up with the Tower Group in an attempt to provide definitive research and advice on smart cards.

The companies announced their program, the Global Smart Card Advisory Service, at a Tower Group meeting in Boston this week.

They aim to deliver "competitive intelligence" to subscribing organizations in what is described as the first global multiclient research of its kind. The clients could include government agencies, transaction processors, hardware and software suppliers, telecommunications companies, and retailers, as well as financial organizations.

Tower and Centum officials said they had not nailed down all the prices, timetables, and some other details of the effort, but it has been comprehensively outlined: They are planning to produce three research reports a year; hold three major meetings, probably on three continents; and use the Internet to disseminate and share data on virtually all smart card activities around the world.

Drawing largely on Verifone's involvement in more than 100 smart card projects, "we already have a first-cut look at the infrastructure and the economics," said Michael Shade, general manager of the Centum Consultancy, Redwood City, Calif.

"There has been a lot of anecdotal reporting on events and case studies, but nobody has taken the business-case analysis to the right level," Mr. Shade added. "We will do here what other forums and conferences can't."

To be sure, consulting and market research is burgeoning along with heightened activity among smart card manufacturers and projects they are serving, among them those sponsored by MasterCard and Visa.

The Smart Card Forum, a multi-industry interest group, is by definition a repository of such data. The Banking Industry Technology Secretariat, a division of the Washington-based Bankers Roundtable that is headed by Smart Card Forum founder Catherine Allen, is taking an inventory of U.S. payment innovations including smart cards.

People attending this week's Cardtech/Securtech seminars and exhibition in Atlanta could come away with a valid snapshot of the global development of plastic cards powered by computer chips.

Centum and Tower Group, a Newton, Mass., firm noted for technology reports and advisory services to some of the world's largest financial institutions, contend it is time for far more than snapshots-for extensive and disciplined financial and marketing analyses on an international scale.

Said Tower Group president Diogo Teixeira, "What would the business case be for a bank to invest a significant amount of money in smart card technology today? That's the kind of question we want to ask."

He added, "The technology has proven it works. The question is what you do with it, what works and what doesn't. The infrastructure is expensive. Decisions are not simple and should not be taken lightly."

Mr. Shade, who became deeply involved in smart cards in the latter stages of a payment-technology career dating back more than 25 years, pointed out that some of the more ambitious smart card concepts have yet to be proven viable. "We believe we will provide the data to help people make more intelligent decisions about what they want to field."

Mr. Shade said that although Centum and Verifone have a substantial data base on smart card developments, which will be incorporated in the advisory service, they needed "the resources of Tower Group to help focus on this area in greater depth, which the marketplace sorely needs."

"We have a good partnership-we don't compete with each other," Mr. Teixeira said.

They said they expect to begin formally soliciting participants through a prospectus in the next few weeks.

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