IBM has launched a programme to help its software partners offer their applications as services over the web.

The company will provide technical, sales and marketing resources to help ISVs offer applications in areas such as accounting, business process management and human resources on a services basis.

Customers are interested in such services because they provide them with more flexibility by allowing workers to access applications remotely from a web browser, for example, according to IBM. Services also allow them to pay on a usage basis, as opposed to buying a licence outright.

Research company IDC has estimated that software sold as services generated revenue of US$4.2 billion in 2004, and that the market will grow at a compound annual rate of 21 percent through 2009.

Helping partners to offer their applications as services also helps IBM. The company has made a big push to promote so-called on-demand computing, in which customers consume and pay for software and computing resources on an as-needed basis. Sun and Hewlett-Packard are pursuing similar initiatives.

IBM also launched a "Software as Services Showcase," an online directory where customers can search for applications offered as services. It currently lists about 40 applications from 20 vendors, including anti-virus software from MessageLabs and invoicing software from Direct Insight.

The resources for partners include workshops, a tool that connects ISVs to an IBM sales representative or other business partner to help close a deal, access to analyst reports and networking and collaboration tools.