In the brave new world of smart card advocates' hopes and dreams, competitors come together as partners.

That was the drill last week when 400 people met in Washington for the Smart Card Forum's fifth annual meeting.

From its start the forum has portrayed itself as one of the grand alliances of high technology, a cooperative effort by many industries to create a store of value and information in the form of plastic cards embedded with computer chips.

But the partnering and openness have taken on greater urgency.

Jean McKenna, who ended her two-year term as president of the forum, said consumers today are more technology-savvy and less loyal to the companies they use. Competitors must band together on matters of infrastructure to pave the way for competition in new forms.

"If you don't cooperate, then you will be penalized by the organizations you represent, because they can't afford fragmentation," Ms. McKenna said.

"It's a whole new way of thinking," said LeeAnn M. Reneker, a banking systems development consultant for Norwest Technical Services, Minneapolis.

To be sure, organizations that compete aggressively were forthcoming last week in presenting their strategies.

Janet Crane, president and chief executive officer of Mondex USA, gave a lively presentation about her company, part of the global joint venture in electronic cash that is 51% owned by MasterCard.

She said 1997 and 1998 would be Mondex's "lab years," and she painted a vivid picture of the way smart cards could revolutionize everything from today's office campuses to the delivery of fast food. She added Mondex would announce a major partnership with a fast food vendor in 1998.

Taking a swipe at Visa's choice of the Java programming language for its smart cards, Ms. Crane said, "Java is meant for PCs, not smart cards," but it "will be for smart cards in 1998." Mondex's operating system, Multos, would accommodate Java then.

Francois Dutray, executive vice president, Visa International, said, "We believe the Java card platform is the best." But we "should not compete on the fundamentals of smart card technology," because it "will doom the acceptance of smart cards and we will all lose."

"Wolves in sheep's clothing," griped John Kloos, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Touch Technology Inc., Phoenix, a forum member company, when asked his opinion of Ms. Crane and Mr. Dutray's claims about open systems and partnerships.

William J. Barr, the forum's new president, saw a world in which smart cards would play an increasingly important role in the burgeoning market for electronic commerce. He said some of the expanded functions include user authentication, privacy protection, and the support of a variety of payment functions.

Mr. Barr drew a careful distinction between the upcoming pilot on Manhattan's Upper West Side and Visa's Olympics test last summer.

He said the New York test, involving both Visa Cash and Mondex, has an "increased level of cooperation between major players," is a "demonstration of an infrastructure similar to credit card infrastructure," and will work through "interoperability issues."

"This is not a test, it is the first phase in a rollout we will stay with," Mr. Barr added. "This is no longer a trial."

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