In erstwhile supercomputer manufacturer has emerged from bankruptcy as a software developer with plans to peddle its data-mining product to financial services firms.

The company, Thinking Machines Corp. of Bedford, Mass., last week announced a three-year marketing initiative with Zen and Art of Client Server Computing Inc.

The New York consulting group - which takes part of its name from the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" - has agreed to market Thinking Machine's Darwin data-mining software to its roster of financial services clients, which includes Bankers Trust Co., Merrill Lynch & Co., and Goldman Sachs Co.

Thinking Machines and Zen are hoping to profit from the expanding market for data-mining applications among banks, insurance companies, and communications firms. Data-mining software helps companies to use computer-stored information, such as customer transaction records.

The software starts at $50,000, Zen consultants said.

According to Meta Group, a Stamford, Conn., consulting firm, the market for data-mining software will grow from $80 million this year to about $800 million by 2000.

But industry watchers warn that companies entering the business might have to wait longer than expected to see their money.

"About 90% of the vendors have introduced their products to the market only in the last six months," said Alexis de Planque, consultant at Meta. "Right now, it's hard to tell which are better."

She added that many banks and other financial services forms are in only the early stages of building the data warehouses that will feed data mining applications. Therefore, these companies "are far off from spending on data mining."

Nevertheless, Thinking Machines is moving forward with plans to introduce Darwin at an industry conference in New York next month.

The software is a collection of programs that help companies customize data reports from their mainframe computers.

The reports can be used to analyze sales trends, develop new marketing strategies, and discover unforeseen markets for products and services.

Now in the pilot phase, the agreement calls for Zen to provide installation, operations, and ongoing technical support for the software.

Thinking Machines has signed three marketing arrangements with outside firms. International Business Machines Corp., Digital Equipment Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc. have agreed to adapt the software to their hardware.

"It's a very hot market," said Alan L. Codkind, vice president of marketing at Thinking Machines. "We are helping financial services firms gather the intelligence they need to pursue their business strategies."

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