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HP looks for a few good partners

Company will have to be careful not to compete with those same partners. Details not expected until next week.

Hewlett-Packard will extend its partner program next week, aiming to woo more third-party distributors to sell HP's OpenView management software, CNET has learned.

At the HP Software Forum customer conference in Montreal, the company is expected to introduce an additional tier to its multilevel support program. The effort is designed to generate more revenue through resellers, independent software vendors and distributors, according to people familiar with HP's plans.

HP is also expected to discuss two new OpenView products and outline a consulting service offering, called a "blueprint," to encourage customers to employ a modern, more cost-effective system design called a services-oriented architecture.

HP's OpenView line is a suite of products for managing corporate networks. The product is the software linchpin to the company's "Adaptive Enterprise" vision of making corporations more flexible and responsive through effective use information technology.

An HP representative declined to comment on the partner program or planned announcements.

Bulking up the number of partners to increase sales is increasingly important to large technology providers. Earlier this year, IBM pledged to spend $1 billion on programs designed to entice partners to build finished applications using IBM's infrastructure software and hardware. HP's other large rival in systems management, Computer Associates International, has made a revamped indirect-sales program a high priority this year.

Selling through partners is far less expensive than building up a company's direct sales force and helps build awareness of a company's products, analysts say. But large companies such as HP need to ensure that their own services divisions don't siphon off potential business from resellers.

"When a vendor becomes directly involved in offering more services, the channel partner sees that as a zero sum game and that scares them," said Jeffrey Kaplan, managing director at consulting firm ThinkStrategies. "It's a difficult balancing act."

Partners are also very important in selling to small and midsize businesses, which tend to buy technology goods from local consultants or resellers. HP and its competitors have each introduced plans meant to draw more revenue from small and medium-size companies.

On top of the partner program, HP is expected to detail a professional services offering around a services-oriented architecture. Two weeks ago, HP's chief strategy and technology officer, Shane Robison, said HP will introduce its "blueprint for running IT as a service delivery business" next week at the OpenView customer conference.

The service offering represents HP's model for designing different aspects of a computing infrastructure most effectively. Often, corporate technology departments are seen as too costly and too slow in rolling out new services. The goal of the blueprint is to help IT departments deliver business services rapidly and less expensively, Robison said.