IBM is due on Monday to make a series of key announcements designed to foster closer future relationships between the company and its partners. The company will open up its research arm to its partners as well as provide them with a plethora of resources around service-oriented architecture (SOA). The vendor will also expand its PartnerWorld Industry Networks program to include a further two industrial sectors: consumer electronics, and energy and utilities.IBM is set to make the announcements at its annual PartnerWorld conference taking place in Las Vegas and running through Wednesday."We\u2019re beginning to work with business partners as an integrated company more than we ever have in the past," Scott Hebner, vice president of IBM\u2019s partner marketing and programs, said. Where IBM\u2019s partners once were content to work with one of the vendor\u2019s divisions, they\u2019re now demanding "an IBM relationship, not a division relationship," he added.Recognizing that need, IBM is paving the way for some of its partners to communicate more freely with the company\u2019s research arm.From the second quarter of this year, members of IBM\u2019s PartnerWorld Industry Networks will be able to contact IBM\u2019s 3,000-strong global research staff for advice and collaboration on projects for customers, according to Cathy Lasser, vice president of industry solutions and emerging business at IBM Research.Lasser expects that IBM\u2019s Research Innovation Centers are likely to play an important role in promoting collaboration between partners and IBM researchers. She expects IBM to open more such centers later this year. Two new centers focused on electronics and automotive technologies respectively are under way in Tokyo, Lasser said.Turning to SOA, IBM is to announce new products and tools Monday around the technology. The vendor has created four Solution Builder Express (SBE) bundles of IBM software for partners to use in encouraging smaller customers to take their first steps into SOA, according to Sandy Carter, vice president of channel strategy, SOA and WebSphere at IBM\u2019s Software Group.IBM is also establishing an early partner community program around its upcoming DB2 Viper database, Carter said. The hybrid data server will be able to manage XML (extensible markup language) data natively as well as relational data. Early access to another future IBM product, its WebSphere Registry and Repository for SOA Governance, will be featured in the vendor\u2019s new SOA Business Central, she added. SOA Business Central is a catalog of SOA software and services developed by IBM partners, including source code and best practices.IBM announced its first PartnerWorld Industry Networks two years ago as a way to reorganize its business partner program around specific industries. The aim has been to make it easier for ISVs to access sales, marketing and services support from IBM.Since 2004, IBM has added more industry coverage to the original six sectors. This week, IBM intends to expand the program to two more industries--consumer electronics and energy and utilities, according to Hebner. The company expects to add the final two sectors--travel and transportation, followed by chemicals and petroleum--by the end of this year, he said. To date, more than 6,000 IBM partners have joined PartnerWorld Industry Networks. IBM estimates that it spends around US$1 billion per year on joint sales and marketing activities through the program.One of the key themes of PartnerWorld this year is what IBM terms "collaborative innovation." With that in mind, IBM will also formally unveil its Technology Collaborations Solutions (TCS) organization aimed at deepening the level of collaboration on research and development (R&D) projects between the vendor, its partners and customers.IBM first mentioned the new organization in mid-January in relation to its latest executive reshuffle, naming Adalio Sanchez, who previously managed IBM\u2019s pSeries server business, as TCS general manager. TCS brings together a number of former IBM units including Technology Development & Manufacturing and Engineering & Technology Services.-China Martens, IDG News ServiceFor related CIO content, check out What You Need to Know About Service-Oriented Architecture, A New Blueprint for IT and\u00a0Executive Editor Chris Koch\u2019s blog post The Starting Point for SOA.For related news coverage, read IBM Sets Up SOA Hub in India.Keep checking in at our CIO News Alerts page for updated news coverage.