Sterling Commerce is moving more deeply into networking technology.

The Dallas-based leader in Internet commerce software, with 1997 revenues of $350.6 million, recently agreed to buy Xcellenet Inc. of Atlanta in a stock and cash deal valued at about $200 million.

Xcellenet, with $53.6 million in 1997 revenues, develops software that gives employees remote access to their corporate computers. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter.

Observers see Sterling Commerce spreading its wings using the $350 million-plus it raised in a February 1997 secondary offering of common stock. The company, which made its initial public offering in March 1996, has more than $500 million available for acquisitions.

Some question how well Xcellenet would mesh with the core businesses. "I do not think the market yet understands the acquisition," said Neeraj K. Vohra, analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey and Co. in Arlington, Va. "I do not think the market totally disliked it either."

Sterling sees Xcellenet as a vehicle for extending electronic commerce to remote computing devices. "Companies implementing EC solutions will want to integrate mobile devices and remote sites into efficient supply chain management solutions," said Steve Perkins, president of the Sterling Commerce communications software group.

Sterling cited industry projections that there will be more than 100 million remote computing users worldwide by the year 2002.

Sterling Commerce's stock rose 37.5 cents last week, to $43.125.

Separately, Sterling Commerce officials last week unveiled Internet- based cash management software. Banks would use the software to provide low-cost payables and receivables services to small and medium-size businesses using financial electronic data interchange technology.

Financial EDI is the exchange of payments and payment-related documents in standard computer formats. Sterling Commerce's software would let companies initiate small volumes of EDI transactions through inexpensive Web browsers.

In other news affecting bank technology companies, shares of Atlanta- based transaction processor National Data Corp. fell $3.5625 for the week, to $40.75.

The stock price was driven down by the sudden departure of Robert L. Walker, the chief financial officer since November 1997.

His rapid exit fueled speculation about the company's financial accounting, said Gregory Gould, an analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co. Mr. Walker and the senior management team "did not appear to be a good fit."

"Fortunately," he added, "there is no negative impact on the business nor does this suggest anything wrong in the business.'

The new CFO is Kevin C. Shea, an eight-year veteran of National Data and formerly an executive vice president of Strategy and Business Development.

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