Europay International has launched a yearlong effort to modernize its payment and information network.

The operator of the Eurocard and Eurocheque programs, a close affiliate of MasterCard International, has designated Hewlett-Packard Co., Oasis Technology, and Oracle Corp. its technology providers.

Europay expects to have a pilot by the end of February, start live installations by early April, and complete 90% of system conversions by yearend. The rest should be done in the first quarter of 1997, said information technology director Erich Weber.

The Belgium-based association becomes the last of the big three multinational bank card organizations to outline what they call migration strategies.

The competing Visa organization is in the early stages of replacing its long-standing mainframe architecture with the more fashionable client/server approach, relying on the power of smaller computers networked together.

MasterCard and Europay were closer to the decentralized client/server model even before they began their overhauls, but their legacy systems are aging and less flexible than newer technologies on the market.

MasterCard started its upgrade early last year. It has replaced 191 IBM processors at member sites with AT&T Corp. equipment, and the nearly 200 remaining conversions should occur by yearend, a spokeswoman said.

With its vendor selections and timetable, Europay is "catching up" to the specifications of a joint technology planning effort with MasterCard known as Programme Global, said Mr. Weber.

Europay, calling its initiative "Ensure Migration," said it will adhere to three basic principles: that the changeover be "transparent" to its banks; that the systems support existing and future businesses, including those in the emerging markets of eastern Europe; and that they accommodate the necessary standardization of products.

Mr. Weber also stressed the plan's compatibility with MasterCard, a minority shareholder in Europay. He said the Hewlett-Packard systems - 150 Unix servers, 40 Unix workstations, 180 personal computers, and the HP/UX version 10 operating system - are "fully compatible" with MasterCard's choices from AT&T's NCR unit.

After testing in France, Hewlett-Packard will support the rollout to member sites of so-called Europay modules. Because the new systems are more powerful and flexible than the current IBM Series/1 minicomputers, fewer devices will be needed to support the same number of users.

Mr. Weber said Europay has 160 Series/1's in the field, and the only way to increase capacity at a site is to add a computer. "Six or seven Series/1's can be replaced with three or four" Hewlett-Packards, he said.

Oasis Technology of Toronto will provide the information switching technology, known as IST 4, that will allow the system to process all types of transactions.

Oracle's relational data base management system - similar to one MasterCard is adopting - will be an integral part of the IST 4 applications and thus embedded in the technology at each member site and at Europay headquarters in the Brussels suburb of Waterloo.

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