Banctec Inc. has expanded its relationship with International Business Machines Corp. in the community banking marketplace.

Under their new agreement, Banctec will provide service support for its Universal Transport check processing systems sold by IBM. Previously, IBM had done the servicing for this equipment, which is designed for community banks.

"IBM's strategy right now is to look at the most effective and efficient way to service all the products that we offer," said Sheryl Gilstrap- Matton, IBM's solution manager of check image systems for community banks.

The announcement may surprise some, since IBM and Banctec are competitors on some levels. Ms. Gilstrap-Matton conceded that it has been an "uphill battle in the marketplace to convince people that IBM and Banctec really are partnered together as a team."

However, analysts were optimistic about the agreement's potential effect on both companies and their ability to work together in the future.

It's "a good step forward for both parties," said Robert M. Johnson, senior vice president with Chicago Corp.

Dallas-based Banctec has 1,400 product engineers across the country who will handle service requests. According to Banctec, there are about 110 Universal Transport installations in the United States.

"We will act as IBM's service arm in the field," said James E. Uren, senior vice president of Banctec's North American operations.

Experts said the servicing of check processing equipment is a big issue for bankers.

"Transport reliability and transport maintenance are critical," said David Medeiros, consulting technology analyst with Tower Group in Wellesley, Mass.

Third-party servicing agreements such as the one between IBM and Banctec can cause users to be alarmed. To ease this fear, IBM said it will be responsible for customer satisfaction with the service provided by Banctec. "If there's a problem, it's ours to fix," Ms. Gilstrap-Matton said.

For Banctec, servicing its own products will produce "some substantial maintenance revenue," Mr. Uren said.

Although best known for its hardware, the company also provides network integration services and PC maintenance for customers such as Citibank and Lockheed Martin.

"I think it's safe to say that most of our community banking customers are not aware of our true service capabilities," Mr. Uren said.

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