In an effort to jump-start what has been called a sluggish entry into Web banking, Microsoft Corp. announced a new development platform for Web-based financial services, based on the open financial exchange (OFX) standard, code-named "Marble." Currently, to set up even simple home banking via a Web front end, banks have to first design a Web site and then create their own interface to back-end legacy databases containing customer information files. The intent of Marble is to take some of the complexity out of the process by providing a tool kit for Web design, as well as a gateway that translates customers' transaction requests into language compatible with back-end databases. It then takes the responses and makes them OFX-compliant to complete the task.

But while it may simplify at least some of the Web challenges faced by financial services IT professionals, Marble, which is scheduled for beta testing this summer, is not a turnkey solution, says Microsoft's Lewis Levin, vp of the company's desktop finance division, who remarked publicly that "assembly is required." Just how much work is necessary depends on the robustness of a bank's middleware solutions. If a bank has already developed a sophisticated telephone banking system, Marble can be placed in front of the supporting back-end systems; Web-based transaction requests will then be translated into compatible language.

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