MICROSOFT, ICL FORMING ENTERPRISE ALLIANCE

NEW YORK -- Two of the world's leading technology powerhouses, Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash., and ICL, London, announced plans to form a sweeping global alliance designed to spur the adoption of advanced enterprise systems across a wide array of industry sectors, with a strong emphasis on retailing.Under the alliance, announced late last month, ICL and Microsoft will work together to develop and

NEW YORK -- Two of the world's leading technology powerhouses, Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash., and ICL, London, announced plans to form a sweeping global alliance designed to spur the adoption of advanced enterprise systems across a wide array of industry sectors, with a strong emphasis on retailing.

Under the alliance, announced late last month, ICL and Microsoft will work together to develop and market consumer-focused information-technology enterprise systems in four major "go to market" sectors -- retail, government, education and enterprise infrastructure integration. In all cases, Microsoft's enterprise solutions platform will serve as the preferred choice for running ICL's systems.

The alliance is striking both in its scope as well as the desire by executives of both companies to underscore the move as a clear signal that large companies can now reliably invest in mission-critical enterprise projects, with full confidence in the ability of these systems to deliver on their promises to help leverage information and serve customers better.

"If I am a retailer looking into the future all I can see is uncertainty, and a primary concern of mine is how am I going to manage that. What is going to come and get me that I don't know about?" Jim Devlin, senior vice president of global solutions at ICL Retail Systems, Dallas, the retail division of ICL, told SN in an interview. ICL, together with its parent, Fujitsu, a $36 billion company, is the third-largest supplier of retail information technology systems in the world, with operations in more than 70 countries.

"The sort of partnership that we have put together with Microsoft in the retail space will at least give me confidence that there is a significant body of business knowledge and technological knowledge that is trying to smooth out the part that is confusing, so that it is not so hard to manage," Devlin said.

Under an initial three-year agreement, ICL, with support from Microsoft, will train more than 4,000 of its employees to become Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers and Microsoft Certified Solutions Developers.

ICL will also open seven dedicated Solutions Centers worldwide to accelerate development and ensure the smooth deployment of systems running on Microsoft software platforms. The centers will be located in Redmond, Wash., and Wake Forest, N.C., in the United States; and in Bracknell, Manchester and Belfast, United Kingdom; Stockholm, Sweden; and Katowice, Poland. "This is significant. To enable retailers to take full advantage of our technologies, it is important that we have strong service, support and solutions. Our relationship with ICL specifically addresses those three areas.

This is a major milestone in our retail strategy toward enabling more retailers to take advantage of technology," Graham Clark, group manager of product industries for Microsoft, said during the interview.

Under the agreement, ICL will become Microsoft's first strategic enterprise alliance partner in Europe. The alliance is to focus heavily on touting the benefits of leveraging Microsoft's enterprise platform as the preferred worldwide platform for running ICL's GlobalSTORE, PrecisionRetailing and InteractiveRetailing family of applications for retailers.

"This landmark alliance will redefine how consumer-centric companies and governments interact with citizens," Keith Todd, ICL's chief executive, said in a statement. "By basing systems on industry-known software, we expect to drive down the cost of computing and offer our customers wider options and benefits."

"We are excited about working with ICL to deliver enterprise systems that help consumers improve the experience and value they receive from retail, government and educational organizations," Steve Ballmer, executive vice president of sales and support at Microsoft, said in a statement.