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Rent a researcher with IBM

Big Blue's research division is making members of its staff available to customers that need assistance in building and changing their business operations.

IBM is offering its researchers up for hire.

Under a new program to be launched Wednesday, Big Blue's research division will make members of its staff available to clients that need assistance building and changing their business operations.

The program, called On Demand Innovation Services, will help IBM customers build better supply chains, improve their use of database information, and enhance their management of physical assets, an IBM representative said.

On Demand Innovation Services will operate as a unit of IBM's services division and start off with 200 consultants. Big Blue will invest $1 billion in the project over three years.

"We'll help our customers do the kind of business process integration...that's going to allow them to compete in the marketplace," said Paul Horn, senior vice president at IBM Research. "We're going to use stuff we've developed in the lab to help (companies) differentiate (themselves) from competitors."

The new program will help to further some of IBM's companywide goals, such as getting its clients to adopt its on-demand computing model, outlined by CEO Sam Palmisano last month. The idea of on-demand computing is that by using advanced computer networks and other new technologies, businesses will be able to buy computing power as needed, similar to the way electricity is purchased.

The program is also a way for IBM to differentiate its products from competitors' technology. The company's research efforts are evident throughout its product lines, analysts say. IBM's Technology Group recently launched a design services program that allows its chip customers to work with IBM chip designers, license its chip-manufacturing technology, and use its newest chip factory as a foundry.

"It's about leveraging the expertise IBM has in selling expertise," said Bob Sutherland, an analyst with Technology Business Research.

Launched in conjunction with the company's Business Consulting Services division, the program will be limited to four specific services at first. Those services will include data management, business processes, analytics and experimental economics.

Horn has high hopes for the program's capacity to change customers' businesses. But he also hopes it affects IBM Research's way of thinking, by gradually changing the group's focus on product development to solving customers' problems. This shift would likely open up new areas of research that had previously gone unnoticed or untapped, he said.

"If we're right, this will both change the agenda for (information technology) research in the industry...and it will also potentially change how services companies think about going to market," Horn said.

So far, IBM has the monopoly on selling this kind of expertise, but Hewlett-Packard is likely to follow. However, competitors like HP are still trying to pull together their offerings, Sutherland said.

An IBM representative declined to divulge the price for renting out one of its researchers. Instead, the cost is negotiated as part of a customer's overall service agreement with IBM, the representative said.