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It’s hard to escape IBM Corp.’s shadow during Big Blue’s biggest partner conference of the year. But savvy solutions providers are pushing their way into the spotlight with big deals of their own.

There’s lots of noise in the legal market, where sources tell me Ciber Inc. has landed lucrative contracts with two big counties in Minnesota. Under terms of the deals, Ciber’s Law & Justice Solutions team is installing CRIMES, a case management system that helps attorneys to generate and manage legal documents. The application rollout, on Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000, will begin in mid-2004, with project completion slated for the first quarter of 2005, according to my insiders.

The new system will adhere to Minnesota’s broader CriMNet initiative. CriMNet is a $260 million effort that defines a single enterprise architecture for the state’s 1,100 jurisdictions. CriMNet, slated for completion within a few years, will allow law enforcement officials to check a suspect’s name and criminal history across the state.

In another legal deal, I hear law firm giant Piper Rudnick is outsourcing more extranet applications to Hubbard One, a Chicago-based solutions provider that designs hosted software specifically for the legal market. The new extranet services promise stronger links between Piper Rudnick’s nearly 1,000 attorneys and the firm’s clientele.

Watch for comprehensive coverage of the Ciber and Piper Rudnick deals in an upcoming issue of eWeek’s System Solutions section for resellers, integrators and corporate customers.

Next page: Deal 2—EDS in a Selling Mood

Deal 2—EDS in a Selling Mood: It’s not quite a done deal, but Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS) expects to sell some or all of its planning software business in March or April, according to Reuters.

This is an unusual move, considering so many consulting firms are entering the software sector with specialized vertical-market applications. Yet last fall, EDS put the planning software business on the block, hoping to raise nearly $2 billion through a sale or IPO.

EDS is striving to improve its balance sheets and cash flow. In mid-February, both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s announced plans to review EDS’s credit rating, prompting investors to fear a credit downgrade might be in the making. Such a downgrade would make it more difficult for EDS to borrow money at reasonable rates, but CEO Michael Jordan downplayed credit-rating concerns during a conference last week.

Next page: Deal 3—One Small Step for CDW

Deal 3—One Small Step for CDW: Constellation Energy Group has turned to CDW Corp. as its clearing house for IT purchases. The $9.7 billion energy supplier wanted a one-stop IT shop to streamline its hardware and software purchases.

More and more corporate customers and government organizations are charting a course to CDW’s site. In January, CDW’s average daily sales were $20.3 million, a 27 percent increase from January 2003. Not too shabby.

CDW’s stock is trading around a 52-week high of $74. Sounds expensive, but at least this dot-com has paying customers—and profits.

Deal 4—Hit The Road

Deal 4—Hit The Road:
Budget Truck Rental has signed a three year, $28 million IT outsourcing contract with Perot Systems Corp. Sound familiar? It should. The deal is an extension to Perot’s existing relationship with Budget, signed in 1997.

Perot Systems will continue to provide data center management, network and application support, desktop helpdesk, local telecommunications and procurement. In addition, the new contract calls for Perot Systems to absorb the support of Budget Truck Rental’s call center operations, located in Redding, Calif.

About Contract Watch:
Each week, this column examines customer engagements that are stirring the channel, and the solutions providers behind them. Our goal is to strip away the hype and tell you what’s really selling—and what isn’t—in today’s IT marketplace. Send your tips to my e-mail address below.

Joseph C. Panettieri has covered Silicon Valley since 1992. He is editorial director of the New York Institute of Technology . Write to him at