International Business Mach-ines Corp. is championing Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java computer programming language.
This support for Java, which has grown steadily over two years and was recently on display at the Java Internet Business Expo in New York, has major implications for banks.
It means Big Blue's traditional strengths in transaction processing and mainframe technology are likely to become compatible with a programming language that proponents believe could be a standard for crucial Internet applications.
One IBM loyalist, KeyCorp, likes its Java-friendliness.
Michael J. Onders, chief technology architect in the enterprise architecture group of Key Services Corp., said his company faced a major challenge in connecting its core processing systems with Internet capabilities but managed to connect the two with help from IBM.
"We had to get to our core accounting system without having to rewrite our deposit systems or our trust systems in Java," said Mr. Onders.
When KeyCorp began developing Web applications in earnest last year, it struggled with compatibility issues.
"The Web companies we talked to knew how to connect Java to data bases because that's what they had in their labs, but we had to connect to CICS," IBM's mainframe transaction processing system, Mr. Onders said.
"So we developed our first Web application to an Oracle data base with NetDynamics server software and IBM RS/6000 Unix servers that were Java- based."
Assistance from IBM was needed to complete the effort. In December, IBM introduced the Java Gateway to CICS, giving banks a product they could "drop right in," said Mr. Onders. "Immediately we began building Web applications that directed all the traffic to our core accounting systems for banking, checking, bill payment, trust portfolio management, and loan applications.
"Once we had the Java Gateway, it freed us from making any changes on the mainframe."
KeyCorp spent about 60 days building its Web-CICS integrated application. The first transaction on the system occurred Sept. 2 when Key Auto Finance's loan origination system interfaced with a Web page from Auto-By-Tel, which lets people buy cars over the Internet.
The bank is not stopping there.
"We're basically taking that same technology and leveraging it over different channels," said Mr. Onders. He said similar technology will be used in student and credit card lending. Applications are likely to go live next month.
KeyCorp remains a heavy user of Microsoft products, but Mr. Onders stressed the ease of "learning Java and leveraging it in the bank.
"In the client/server environment, you tended to have to separate your component builders from your application builders. In Java there is the ability to create components in the same language as the application. That's a big benefit to us."
IBM's move to accommodate more Web-based applications is part of its recently announced e-business framework for network computing.
"There was a need to have applications that were affordable and could run on any system," said Allan M. Hess, business development manager in the Internet division at IBM.