COMPETITION is building up in Asia's financial database business, with a newcomer threatening the established players with a smarter, larger and more user-friendly system. The new entrant in this lucrative and technically-sophisticated field is Dataline Asia-Pacific, which provides an on-line database on the key economies of the Asia-Pacific region. Dataline, which takes pride in the fact that it is the largest Asian-designed financial database, is based in Hongkong and can be accessed over normal telephone lines by anyone with an IBM-compatible PC and a modem. An added feature of Dataline is that the data can be downloaded on to a personal computer without any additional programming. And to make it easier for users, the company also supplies Intel's 486 PCs with eight-megabyte random access memory (RAM) and an 80 MB hard disk. Users in Hongkong can dial up through Hongkong Telecom's Minilink, over a dedicated data link using either a 2,400 bits per second (BPS) or 9,600 bps modem. The firm charges a flat fee of US$19,500 per year for unlimited access, while reduced packages are available for those who need access to certain limited sections of the database. The heart of the database is the Sequent S2000/200 minicomputer. The database server is built on the UNIX operating system and the Informix relational database management system. The software for accessing data has been developed using the C language and Informix ESQL-C. Dataline's software was designed by Techna International of the United States, on IBM's OS/2 platform. The software was largely developed in India, to keep costs down to a minimum. As part of its continuing development, the database will incorporate Windows NT platform within a few months. ''The unique feature that makes our database stand apart is our user-friendly software, which makes it one of the easiest databases to use,'' said Mr Fons Richter, president of Dataline. ''Compared to other databases, it is simple to gain access to the data, download it, and then display it. ''Furthermore, we offer flexible graphical layouts, and 34 different functions to manipulate data. ''We have a competitive edge over other electronic data vendors in that, one, no other database in the Asia-Pacific region offers such a wide range of data and two, our data is in an easily-accessible format for the average user,'' Mr Richter said. Dataline was initially developed by Asian Finance Publications, which started work on the database as far back as 1988. Eventually, Dataline was launched with the backing of three major banking institutions in the region: the First Pacific Bank, the Lippo group, and GSP International Bank, which together hold 60 per cent of the equity. The remaining 40 per cent is held by the management. The database covers a wide range of information on 11 economies in the region. These are Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Hongkong, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. Further, it also incorporates information from both the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) databases. The entire database is divided into seven sub-databases at present and in some cases the data goes as far back as 10 to 15 years. First, an Equity Watch database covers daily stock price data for 12 markets in the region. The second sub-database is a Company Watch, covering the financial and management structure of more than 2,300 companies in the region. ''In the Company Watch database, Dataline's unique software provides 22 standard ratios. ''In addition, the user can calculate his own ratios as the software is flexible and open and not rigid and defined,'' he said. Third, Econ-Data is a vast inventory of macro-economic data, particularly on individual countries in the region. The software welds both data collected from local as well as international sources such as the IMF and OECD. Fourth, sub-database, Country Watch, gives a briefing on the economy, politics, industry, agriculture, and services of the 11 major countries. Fifth, Interest Rates, Currencies, Commodities, covers 100 global interest rates, conversions for 30 currencies against the US dollar and commodity prices as well. The software for the sixth sub-database, Financial Key Products, which includes syndicated loans, bonds, and floating rate notes is now under development. Seventh, Newsline, offers a summary of important news on Asian stockmarkets, governments and economies in the region. The database is specifically aimed at managers, chief executive officers, analysts, brokers, and bankers. FACTFILE NAME OF ORGANISATION: Dataline Asia-Pacific. TYPE OF BUSINESS: Computerised stockmarket and economic information on 12 Asian countries. NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 18. HARDWARE: Sequent Symmetry S2000/200 with four 486, 25 megahertz processors, 512 kilobit cache per CPU, 64 megabytes ECC memory, 5.4 gigabytes disk space. SOFTWARE: UNIX and INFORMIX on-line for the central database. OS/2 for the application software residing on clients' PCs. COMMUNICATION: Uses standard X.25 (asynchronous) protocol. The communications portion of the software resides in both the back end and the front end machines. The module is two-layered on both sides. The lower layers perform physical data transfer. The upper layers of the back-end is the interface with the database, while that of the front-end interfaces with the user.