Hypercom Corp. has attached to its software products group a brand name that it hopes also describes where its business is headed.

The name, Ascendent, replaced Pinnacle in July. Pinnacle was deemed too common in other businesses, said Theodore F. Cole, senior vice president of the Ascendent group.

The change does not set the point of sale payment systems company back much in the United States, where software has not historically been viewed as Hypercom's strong suit.

"In the States, Hypercom is more recognized for terminals and networking capabilities," Mr. Cole said in a recent interview.

The Phoenix-based company is viewed as a competitive No. 2 to Hewlett- Packard Co.'s Verifone subsidiary in POS card-reading equipment and related systems.

But "our international reputation is more as a provider of server-level software," Mr. Cole said. The branding goes hand in hand with an effort to "establish more recognition for Hypercom in the United States at the server level."

"We are getting more awareness in the" United States, Mr. Cole went on. "We are close to some Ascendent deals."

Hypercom has been established for years as an international software source, and Ascendent has made inroads since Mr. Cole arrived in October 1996 from Tandem Computers Inc. to enhance the product delivery capabilities under Hypercom International president Jairo E. Gonzalez.

In recent weeks, Hypercom announced that Equitable Bank of the Philippines and Banco del Istmo of Panama were deploying the Ascendent Advanced Transaction Processor System.

Fun Miles Antilles, a merchant loyalty program in the Caribbean, chose the Ascendent Loyalty Management System-an application often associated with smart cards that Mr. Cole said is beginning to generate serious interest among U.S. retailers.

Hypercom sees its server software helping to drive acceptance of its latest generation of ICE-Interactive Customer Equipment-terminals. And the Ascendent label has gone on the electronic commerce and Secure Electronic Transaction software-the virtual wallet, POS system, gateway, and certificate authority-that Hypercom has packaged from a strategic partner, GlobeSet Inc. of Austin, Tex.

"We took a cautious approach" to e-commerce, Mr. Cole said. "We saw a need to be in electronic commerce and knew there would be card providers on the Internet, but we wanted to limit our exposure," hence the alliance with GlobeSet and with Tandem, now part of Compaq Computer Corp.

The gradualism is in keeping with dictates from Hypercom Corp. chairman George Wallner and president Albert Irato to stay focused on the core POS business without ignoring the leading edge. The Ascendent strategy extends that outlook to promoting customer flexibility.

Hypercom describes Ascendent as an "adaptive layer" in the system architecture.

It lets a company keep aging back-office legacy systems in place while upgrading the peripheral network using the more adaptable client/server approach.

"We had more than 150 installations of our products in Asia and Latin America and were pressured by users that were growing into other software," Mr. Cole said.

"We made the decision to provide the upgrade path with the necessary scalability and reliability. The adaptive layer did not replace legacy systems but protected investments in legacy systems.

"We still believe people are not willing to replace entire infrastructures. Their problem is not the infrastructure but rather the face presented to the outside world."

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