by Sarah D. Scalet


May 01, 20024 mins
Enterprise Applications

Talaris doesn’t want to be just the next best thing to a personal assistant; it aims to be better than a personal assistant. That’s because employees themselves are always wanting things–time-dependent services such as conference rooms, flights and restaurant reservations, which might be arranged by an automated calendar inside the corporate firewall, a site on the public Internet or a hostess who answers the telephone at a small restaurant. “If this were nirvana, and corporate budgets were unlimited, any person who spends time away from the office would wind up with two or three administrative assistants who work around the clock,” says Roman Bukary, Talaris’s senior director of product marketing and strategy. But these days are hardly nirvanic.

That’s where Talaris steps in. Named after Talaria, the winged sandals of messenger god Hermes, Talaris’s goal is to automate the process of arranging those services. The company got its start when founder, chairman and CEO Patrick W. Grady was working at Portivity, a sales-force automation company. When he asked salespeople how to improve sales, what he heard were not suggestions about improving the product. Instead, salespeople wanted help with the secretarial tasks that occupied as much as a quarter of their time.

Grady and cofounder George Gould, now vice president of quality of service at Talaris, started to dream up a solution, and in June 1999 they founded the company. Privately held, Talaris has gone through three rounds of venture capital funding and hopes to break even “a few quarters out,” Bukary says.

The trick to making Talaris work, of course, is in the execution. Using simple object access protocol (SOAP) and other integration methods, the software must link suppliers and customers who may well have a vast gulf of technology between them. “We set out to build a technology that would allow the supplier to transact with Talaris without major IT expenses and that would allow the user to have an application that is seamless,” Bukary says. “The user doesn’t know how I talk to the supplier. I will deal with you as a user or you as a supplier at the highest level of sophistication you are capable of today.” That can mean just a telephone, he says, and there’s human fallback if the automated system can’t schedule the service.

So far, Talaris has about 120,000 service suppliers as well as a partnership with Sabre’s GetThere, but it has very few installed users. Sun Microsystems, another partner, is rolling out the service to its first 300 users and hopes to save money on administrative overhead. “Success greatly depends on getting people’s attitude changed about how they should go about procuring services,” says Shahram Moradpour, senior director of market development at Sun. “But we’re starting to get e-mails from people asking when are we going to get this thing rolled out? People want to use it.”

Perhaps that’s because, as Aberdeen’s Dana Gardner sees it, Talaris has found a practical way of making Web services relevant. “People need a way of translating Web services into their daily routines. Talaris has created an engine to allow people to be reached through the devices of their choice, and that’s pretty cool,” says Gardner, research director of messaging and collaboration services.

The flip side is that some application vendors may be leery about losing the primary relationship with the user. “What we have here is a balancing act, in that Talaris can act as a catalyst but is going to extract a toll–a piece of the relationship with the customer,” he says. “And that’s kind of an interesting business model. It’s blazing a trail for how a Web services economy might operate.”