Moving to strengthen its hold on a business where it is already a dominant force, Verifone Inc. has begun deploying a system that automates the management of vast networks of transaction terminals.

The software, called Veritalk, continuously collects and tracks information coming in from the points of sale. In theory, this frees personnel at processing centers to focus more on marketing and customer service.

In a first-of-its-kind strategic switch, Verifone has built the Veritalk system to support terminals from other vendors as well. The package has already been selected for network management by one of the major transaction servicing companies, Deluxe Data Systems Inc., which has 31,000 Verifone systems in place.

"We're supporting other vendors' terminals, because the vendor that gives customers choice is the one that best serves the market," said Jeff Stone, director of client/server software at Verifone.

Mr. Stern said Veritalk represents a breakthrough in POS network management. The previous generation, called Zontalk, was "O.K. for a few thousand terminals at best," Mr. Stern said.

Using powerful Unix-based workstation technology and distributed client/server processing capabilities, "Veritalk is for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of terminals," Mr. Stern said.

The task of downloading, collating, and generating reports on transaction data from the field can be complex and laborious, especially for the big merchant banks and processing companies driving many thousands of devices. Veritalk represents a layer of standardization for the network management operation in which vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Sun Microsystems offer competing programs.

"The people who spend time working on downloads can now be working instead on adding value to the merchant relationship," Mr. Stern said.

"In the electronic services industry, effective terminal management is of strategic importance," said Tom McLaughlin, vice president of government services at Deluxe Data in Milwaukee. Mr. McLaughlin is active in electronic benefits transfer, the automation of welfare, food stamps, and other government payments, one of several transaction applications where Deluxe expects Veritalk to be of use.

The company has been testing Veritalk since September. The product is to be in general release in the first quarter.

"Not only does it provide all of the functionality we need to more efficiently support our existing base of systems," Mr. McLaughlin said. "Its client/server architecture gives us excellent room for future growth."

Veritalk was one of three Verifone product releases at the recent Bank Administration Institute retail delivery conference in Atlanta. The Redwood City, Calif.-based company also announced the Printpak 300 thermal printing mechanism, which can be added on to many of the company's authorization devices; and the availability of the Omnihost 2.0 payment processing software on the Hewlett-Packard HP 9000 platform.

The ribbonless Printpak 300, originally developed for Europe, produces a higher-quality receipt than standard printers.

Omnihost 2.0, like Veritalk, is based on Verifone's Viking technology, which relies on the widely compatible Windows user interface and Oracle 7 data base. In credit cards, the HP 9000 has become popular in client/server solutions to "legacy systems that are difficult and expensive to maintain," said Verifone vice president Denis A. Calvert.

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