Chemical Banking Corp. has hired Unisys Corp. to manage and maintain all its PC-based systems.

Under a three-year, multimillion-dollar agreement, the Blue Bell, Pa.- based vendor will furnish technical support for roughly 30,000 desktop units worldwide. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Support of personal computers is a pressing issue for financial institutions, which have been buying them fast in recent years.

A recent technology study by American Banker, Andersen Consulting, and Tower Group, found that PCs are expected to account for 37% of banks' technology spending by 1997. Until recently, the study noted, PCs were "not even a blip on banking's technology spending screen."

Handing over management of these systems to a third party is expected to become increasingly popular, as banks work to stay focused on their core businesses.

"Our new relationship with Unisys provides us with a single services partner to manage these resources worldwide," said Denis O'Leary, chief information officer at Chemical Bank. "We will reduce costs, optimize the availability of our systems, and, ultimately, improve services to our customers."

Unisys, historically known for its mainframe products, will replace more than a dozen service providers that had been handling desktop systems for Chemical.

The vendor will inventory Chemical's desktop and local area network equipment and software and set up a computer-based system to help manage the bank's systems. It will also track installations and equipment removals, including changes in hardware and software brands.

The comprehensive desktop services arrangement is the first such deal Unisys has announced with a bank, though Unisys officials said it has agreements with several other banks that it cannot yet name.

Unisys has only recently begun seriously to expand and launch efforts in the desktop servicing arena. In the past two years, said David Saunders, vice president of multivendor desktop services, Unisys has focused on developing a help desk catering to customers' PC-related problems, as well as on developing its asset management services.

Before the company's announcement last week that it would launch such an integrated services program, Unisys signed on a handful of other large private companies, like Aetna Life and Bass Taverns, and government agencies such as the federal Department of Justice.

Mr. Saunders described PC-based systems maintenance and support as a "critical component" in the vendor's overall strategy to expand its service-related businesses.

As banks and other companies embrace more client/server-style systems, Unisys officials said the desktop services market - which is already a multibillion-dollar business - will expand by about 23% per year.

Unisys set itself apart from competitors responding to Chemical's request for proposals through its "modular replacement" approach, Mr. Saunders said.

In modular replacement, a malfunctioning piece of equipment - be it a keyboard, a central processing unit, or a monitor - is swapped out to be taken off-site for repairs, a method which, Mr. Saunders said, costs less and causes less disruption.

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