Microsoft corp. and integrion Financial Network jointly develop an interoperability standard? At the American Banker's Banking and Financial Services in Cyberspace conference, held in October in Phoenix, some of the discussion centered on the what-ifs of an agreement allowing the competing financial messaging formats, Microsoft's OFX and Integrion's Gold, to be interoperable.

The parties may be closer to an interoperability deal than one might think. Work on a mutual interoperability standard has been ongoing for some time, according to an Integrion spokesperson. "Phoenix was just another meeting," confirms Microsoft's Matt Cone, business development manager for Microsoft's desktop finance division. "We've been working together for nine months." In fact, he says, "We've been meeting every two weeks, and there have been technical meetings since June." Cone didn't speculate on when final specifications allowing full interoperability will be finalized.

Interoperability of the standards, which would allow data coded for one to work with the other, would allow the more important business of creating a standardized platform for electronic commerce to go forward without worrying about which company had more share of a potentially huge market.

Since both standards are backed by large organizations-Integrion has IBM and just bought an equity interest in CheckFree, largely, say sources, for CheckFree's back-office function, and Microsoft is, well, Microsoft- all-out competition would set back EC, particularly Banking Industry Technology Secretariat (BITS) CEO Catherine Allen's efforts, through BITS, to create a common platform. This will be a foundation for economic growth similar to that set up by the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913. FB

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