If the road to hell is paved with good inventions, then it's probably also littered with the remains of startup companies that never hit the big time-particularly, electronic commerce outfits. This leaves banks to sort out the promis-ing players from the over-hyped, no-substance new comers.

Consider Simple Access, an electronic commerce company founded by cryptographer and cypherpunk Eric Hughes along with John McArtor, president and CEO of private merchant bank Delta International, Inc. The company is based on an infrastructure design methodology developed by Hughes that will solve certain critical issues blocking the path of EC. Created to be far simpler than EDI and much more comprehensive than SET, this new, as-yet unnamed methodology for transmitting financial information electronically is "object-oriented-like" in that pieces of the protocol can be reused to fit various business models so that new applications don't need to be rewritten from scratch. "Take wire transfers," says Hughes, the company's CTO. "We can preserve all the policy decisions that get made in a wire office and remove all the re-keyboarding. The design methodology can be applied to existing sets of processes." Other banking applications for which this technology has potential: letter of credit processing, check clearance, on-line banking, corporate trade payments, and positive pay interaction.

Hughes says Simple Access will introduce applications to the market in third quarter 1997. If the applications work as he says, the new methodology would prove a viable alternative to traditional EDI, which, thus far, has been too cumbersome, inflexible and expensive to really take off.

Even so, EDI is backed by big companies, says Geri Spieler, research analyst in Gartner Group's electronic commerce strategies division. Simple Access doesn't have such support-yet.

-prince tfn.com

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