TSI International Software Ltd., a developer of electronic data interchange software, has filed a registration statement for an initial public offering expected to raise as much as $27 million.

The company is one of a growing number of electronic commerce players betting investors will be receptive to their businesses.

"The markets are coming alive," with first-time stock offerings from electronic commerce firms, said Gary Craft, analyst at San Francisco-based Robertson, Stephens & Co..

He anticipates a crush of new offerings will hit the market in the coming months because "accessing capital markets will be important for them for credibility and visibility."

This is particularly so for companies like Wilton, Conn.-based TSI that provide technology for electronic commerce between businesses.

TSI plans to issue three million shares of stock. Initially, shares are expected to fetch between $7 and $9. Robertson Stephens, Soundview Financial Group Inc., and Wessels Arnold & Henderson are leading the deal.

The capital TSI amasses could go to acquisitions or to paying down its bank debt, according to its prospectus. Both endeavors are important to the company, whose main line of business is crowded and considered ripe for consolidation.

Having capital in hand would help TSI to control its destiny in a looming shakeout.

Electronic data interchange-the computerized exchange of business documents, and sometimes payments, in standard formats-generated nearly $1 billion in technology investments from banks and corporations last year, according to Neeraj K. Vohra, analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co., Arlington, Va.

In each of the next few years, EDI spending should grow 30%, he said.

A handful of companies, including GE Information Services, Sterling Commerce, and Harbinger Corp., dominate electronic data interchange.

Companies like TSI, which says it has a 10% share of the market for PC- based EDI software, can use IPO capital to acquire other companies. And if a larger player wants to acquire the newly public company, the stock price establishes a fair price.

Though IPO announcements in consumer electronic commerce lately have been rarer than those in the corporate realm, the retail market still is seeing plenty of activity.

The most important development is the agreement between Microsoft Corp. and First Data Corp. to provide end-to-end electronic bill presentment and payment services.

In both retail and corporate electronic commerce, banks play a central role in allowing access to the payment systems, but there are other services banks can provide as well.

"A lot of banks look at EDI myopically and just think of the payments piece," said Barbara Utendorf, vice president at Fifth Third Bancorp, Cincinnati.

She advocates bank involvement in the nonfinancial side of electronic commerce as well-the moving of general payment information. "EDI is just information transfer," she said.

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