Financial services firm taps IBM for outsourcing

AXA Financial, a New York-based insurance and financial services firm that manages almost $500 billion in assets, last week said it has signed a 10-year outsourcing and technology services deal valued at about $400 million with IBM's professional services unit.

Included in the contract is the planned use of an as-yet-unannounced help-desk tool that will let end users at AXA get assistance via the Web, the two companies said. The goal is to give users the ability to fix some PC problems themselves without requiring the intervention of an information technology staffer, an IBM spokeswoman said.

The agreement with AXA is the third big outsourcing contract that IBM has announced in the last two weeks. Previously, the company's IBM Global Services operation said it had won a pair of 10-year deals valued at $1.5 billion each from Aventis SA, a France-based pharmaceuticals maker, and The New Power Co., an energy start-up in Houston.

For AXA, IBM will set up new help-desk capabilities that are supposed to be available around the clock. IBM will also manage AXA's systems and technology procurement and provide support for all PCs and servers under the outsourcing contract, said Jeff Tolvin, an AXA spokesman.

The deal was signed by AXA Client Solutions, which supports two of the company's insurance and financial services business units. Tolvin said IBM won't completely replace the IT department at AXA Client Solutions, which will continue to be in charge of the company's IT infrastructure. But AXA expects the outsourcing arrangement to reduce its operating expenses and improve customer service, he added.

AXA will be one of the first users of the Web-based HelpNow self-help tool, according to the IBM spokeswoman. HelpNow hasn't been officially launched yet, but it's available for purchase by users through IBM Global Services, she said. AXA Financial Inc., a worldwide financial services company, has $497 billion in assets under management, according to the company.

Albert Nekimken, an analyst at Vienna, Virginia-based consulting firm Input, said he was impressed that IBM has been able to convince three different users to sign 10-year outsourcing deals in light of the rapid and constant changes in technology that companies face. "I thought the number of 10-year contracts was declining," Nekimken said. "It sort of goes against the conventional wisdom in some respects."

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