LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Investors should never take as gospel what companies say about their competitors. But sometimes, it's more useful to hear what a business has to say about its rivals than itself.

That was the case with

webMethod's

(WEBM)

CEO Phillip Merrrick's presentation Tuesday at the

Goldman Sachs Technology Investment Symposium

here.

Image placeholder title

Not that B2B integration software, which webMethod's makes, isn't fascinating stuff.

But the scripted presentations companies give at these investment conferences tend to become rote, and if you've seen them more than a few times, they become a little stale. In that sense, the interesting stuff came when an audience member asked which companies Merrick sees seeing as competition.

"Perhaps not surprisingly, we have seen a whole lot less of

Vitria

(VITR)

," Merrick said, referring to the integration software company that has come on hard times lately because of its exposure to the struggling telecom industry. Vitria's stock closed at $5.50 Tuesday, down 95% from its 52-week high of $106."Vitria seems to have been replaced as the third play in this space by

SeeBeyond

(SBYN)

."

(The second play, presumably, is

Tibco Software

(TIBX)

.)

Ironically, at the

Robertson Stephens Technology 2001 Conference

in San Francisco Tuesday, Vitria played down how much it's seeing webMethods in the market. Observers there said the company contended that it was seeing webMethods as competition in just 10% of its deals.

SeeBeyond, formerly known as STC, has been the up and comer in the Web integration sector lately. In January, it said its fourth-quarter numbers would be better than expected, and then it met those higher expectations.

This came at the same time that Vitria announced it would miss its quarterly numbers because some deals fell through.

In that light, Merrick's view that SeeBeyond has now become a bigger threat to his company than Vitria seems to hit the mark. Of course, recognizing the firm as a threat is also the biggest compliment that Merrick could pay it.