With coalitions led by computer industry giants like IBM and Microsoft already wielding considerable influence over Internet banking and electronic commerce, Hewlett-Packard Co. is playing its own distinctive alliance card.
Hewlett-Packard, the parent of payment system vendor Verifone Inc. and long a proponent of strategic alliances, announced the formation Monday of an initiative called First Global Commerce.
The organizers-HP, Verifone, and their close data processing ally Electronic Data Systems Corp.-are not using the words consortium or network in their title. They define First Global as an initiative or forum to promote all forms of e-commerce and technical standards where appropriate.
But the group already has some blue-chip credentials that will beg comparisons with Integrion Financial Network, the home banking partnership of International Business Machines Corp. and 17 financial institutions, and other established or brewing cooperatives.
Among the companies that had signed up for First Global Commerce as of the end of last week were Visa International, Citibank, Royal Bank of Canada, and Wells Fargo Bank.
The three banks are regarded as leaders in banking by personal computer and other aspects of on-line financial services. Citibank and Royal Bank are also members of Integrion. Depending on one's point of view, the overlap illustrates either the openness and inclusiveness of these groupings or the fluidity and confusion they may give rise to.
MasterCard International and its Mondex smart card subsidiary were said to be close to signing on as of Monday.
First Global's membership also has a decidedly international flavor, with the Spanish payment processor Sistema 4B and Sumitomo Credit Corp. of Japan.
Another early member is Banc One Corp. merchant processing subsidiary Paymentech Inc.
All have in common a close working relationship with Verifone, a leader in point of sale equipment and Internet payment systems, but HP wants to expand the circle.
C. Lloyd Mahaffey, Verifone senior vice president of global marketing and development, said First Global's goals are to set forth an "open, scalable, plug-and-play architecture" for electronic commerce; to promote development of products within that technical framework; and to coordinate a forum to discuss and set standards and product specifications when deemed necessary.
Thickening the plot, First Global endorsers Citibank and Royal Bank, along with a few other Integrion members, are also owners of Meca Software LLC, the personal financial software company that has a close technology development partnership with Sun Microsystems Inc. IBM is a devotee of Sun's Java computing language. Verifone is open to Java, but one of its partners in the promotion of secure Internet payments under the MasterCard- Visa SET protocol, Microsoft Corp., is highly critical of Java and embroiled in a legal dispute with Sun.
HP, Verifone, and EDS timed their First Global announcement as a kind of opening shot in a battle that could begin to play out this week at the Bank Administration Institute's Retail Delivery Conference in New Orleans. Microsoft, co-owner with First Data Corp. of the MSFDC bill payment venture, is expected to make some major technology announcements there.
"HP, Verifone, and EDS are in this to sell product but also to be change agents and thought leaders," said Mr. Mahaffey. "This idea is resonating with financial institutions around the world, and we expect to add technology partners as well."
Mr. Mahaffey said the solicitation of First Global prospects began about six weeks ago. It grew out of HP's $1.3 billion acquisition of Verifone in June and a strategy to usher financial institutions in to the on-line world while dominating some key hardware and software niches. As a means to the end, HP also has vocally supported open standards, even pledging with rival IBM to smooth some of the rough edges in SET implementations.
In orchestrating the strategy-what computer people call evangelizing-HP officials have been showing a videotape at industry events portraying the wonders of technology at a hypothetical full-service financial institution called First Global.
"First Global Commerce plays off the vision of the video," said Debra Miele, HP's worldwide marketing manager on the program. "The consortium approach reduces risk for the participants and allows for very flexible deployment."
Mr. Mahaffey said it will differ from Integrion in that major capital investments will not be required. Given its emphasis on openness, First Global also does not expressly seek to undermine Integrion or usurp the prerogatives of groups like the Financial Services Technology Consortium or the Bankers Roundtable's Banking Industry Technology Secretariat.
"Natural alliances will unfold," Mr. Mahaffey said. "Here, everybody is buying into a framework of an architecture that allows everybody to plug- and-play well. It doesn't inhibit competition."