International Business Machines Corp. has assembled a network of companies and services to help banks offer Internet services to their merchant customers.

A provider of payment services-a bank, transaction processor, or independent sales organization-could rely on the IBM Merchant Enablement Program to help merchants accept credit cards on their Web storefronts.

Banks and merchants could choose from a menu of options for hardware, software, and Web hosting services provided by IBM or companies it works with.

"This is a one-of-a-kind program that enables banks and credit card processors to deal more effectively with all these e-merchants that are coming on-line," said Alan Clark, a market segment executive with the IBM Software division in Somers, N.Y.

IBM found there was "a gap between the banks and payment processors" and the merchants interested in electronic commerce, Mr. Clark said.

"Financial institutions have had merchant relationships all of their commercial lives," he said, yet they "don't understand all the things that have to happen" to usher their customers on to the Internet,'" Mr. Clark said.

IBM calls Merchant Enablement "a framework" that contains "the right pieces and relationships" needed for a complete Internet service for retailers large and small.

Avivah Litan, an electronic commerce analyst at GartnerGroup, said Merchant Enablement is "not new technology. It's new packaging, and basically IBM getting refocused" on Internet payments.

IBM "had a slow, stumbling start with their payment service" and is "repositioning their consulting and integration services," Ms. Litan said. To banks and merchants, products from different vendors "really look pretty similar," she said; the difference is how much hand-holding they provide.

IBM is not alone in its desire to bring together elements that smooth the on-line path. Visa U.S.A. recently joined forces with Trintech, a competitor of IBM and others in on-line payments software, to offer banks and their merchant customers the Visa Internet Payment Gateway.

In another alliance, First Data Corp.'s merchant division recently announced a deal with IBM and iMall Inc. to offer what was termed "one-stop e-commerce services" for banks and their merchant clients. First Data, the leader in its field, does the card processing, IBM provides Web design with its HomePage Creator software, and iMall hosts the Web sites.

IBM said the venture with First Data represents a specific set of services for Internet storefronts, whereas Merchant Enablement is a conduit to a variety of services, some from IBM and some from partner companies. "First Data is targeting a specific segment of merchants-the smaller ones- whereas Merchant Enablement really scales through all types of merchants," Mr. Clark said.

Michele Grieshaber, manager of business development for Internet payments at IBM Software, said HomePage Creator-which helps small and midsize merchants design their own Web sites-was one of many options a Merchant Enabler retailer could choose.

Cardservice International, an independent sales organization in the merchant processing field that is 50% owned by First Data, is one of two organizations that have signed up. The IBM connection gives it a "turnkey e-commerce solution" that can put a smaller merchant on-line within hours, the Agoura Hills, Calif., company said.

Cardservice president and chief executive officer Charles R. Burtzloff said this will be "a major accellerant to the growth of e-commerce."

Also in the program is Credit Union Electronic Transaction Services, or CUETS, of Regina, Canada. It is a MasterCard International member that processes cards on behalf of Canadian credit unions.

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