IBM answers direct-sale wishes

The federal procurement community spoke, and IBM listened.

Federal customers said that they wanted to deal with the company directly when purchasing information technology products. IBM responded Monday with the announcement that it had expanded its IT contract with the General Services Administration to include the option of working with IBM through a dedicated World Wide Web site or using an IBM Business Partner for PC sales.

"Before we were not direct, and now we're offering this direct option to our [federal] customers," said Bill Jones, IBM's manager of business development, adding that the Air Force in particular had voiced its preference for a direct purchasing option. "Last year, we couldn't participate in an Air Force [blanket purchase agreement] that went to three other vendors and resulted in $300 million worth of business. This is clearly an area we wanted to get into."

In addition to the direct interaction, the new terms include more products. The contract also enables government end users and procurement officers to obtain GSA quotes and place orders for products such as IBM ThinkPads, commercial desktop PCs, monitors, Netfinity servers, Intellistation NT-workstations and other PC options.

"Customers requested this, and it allows them to choose between going to our Web site and configuring their purchase and using a credit card" or going through one of IBM's partners, said Alex Wong, federal sales manager for IBM's personal systems group.

IBM has set up an - IBM store site to facilitate the expanded contract. The site enables government employees to ask questions, customize orders and communicate directly with the company on IT purchases.

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