Former Novell exec jumps into ASP pool

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CONCORD, MASS. -- Users looking to simplify their business-to-business electronic commerce transactions could benefit if one of the newest entrants to the application service provider (ASP) market delivers on its promises.

The company, dubbed Network Decisions, is the brainchild of Chris Stone, who recently stepped down as Novell's top strategist. Stone's plan is to help companies that sell and purchase large quantities of merchandise and that interact with multiple trading partners make faster and smarter business decisions online. Network Decisions' services will be designed to eliminate the need to manually wade through reams of data stored in supply chain and other applications, Stone says.

"I have a vision of an ASP with huge analytical decision-making capabilities," says Stone, who scoffed at ASPs that merely provide Internet access to existing packaged applications.

Network Decisions' service will enable customers using Web browsers to make queries that will be handled by a rules-based engine running at one or more Network Decisions data centers. For example, an automobile maker could inquire about the availability of a certain type of tire before winter sets in. The engine would then plow through data stored at trading partners' sites or at an online business-to-business exchange. Information would be collected in a directory located at Network Decisions using XML or an XML derivative.

"Stone has used the directory for its very customizable, flexible and adaptable attributes," says Neil McDonald, a Gartner Group analyst who says Network Decisions' services should attract large companies.

Network Decisions' rules engine is based on technology originally developed for investment house J.P. Morgan by systems integrator Predictive Systems. Stone hired a handful of Predictive Systems' engineers to help start his company last month. Network Decisions will develop a variety of application services that take advantage of the engine, he says.

If all goes according to plan, customers will be able to sign on for Network Decisions services by next summer. Before then, Stone hopes to have lined up partners, including online business-to-business exchanges and other ASPs that might want to add analytical capabilities to their services.

Stone is currently seeking funding for his company.

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