IBM continued its spending spree for its digital agency today. It announced plans to acquire a firm that gives it direct access to the Salesforce ecosystem — a deal that it said will help it accelerate cloud-based customer experiences for Salesforce users

Armonk, N.Y.-based Big Blue bought a Salesforce Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) consulting firm, Bluewolf Group. It plans to add it to IBM Interactive Experience (IBM iX), the 2-year-old digital agency that has more than 10,000 consultants. Terms of the deal were not officially disclosed, but some published reports speculate it is valued at about $200 million.

IBM began its digital agency in 2014 and offers services that span strategy, creative, design, mobile, digital and customer analytics and commerce and customer platform software providers. 

Last month, IBM acquired, a Dusseldorf, Germany agency. Before that, it acquired Columbus, Ohio-based Resource/Ammirati, a digital marketing and creative agency, and Aperto, a cross-channel, digital agency based in Berlin, Germany.

Billions at Stake

With New York City-based Bluewolf, IBM gets a direct line to Salesforce customers to help them "create consumer-grade experiences," according to IBM officials. It also becomes one of Salesforce's top service providers.

”I'm so proud of Eric (Berridge), who (as CEO) built Bluewolf from a startup into a leader in Salesforce services,” Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, said in a statement. “The powerful combination of our strategic partners, IBM and Bluewolf, will help clients transform and demonstrate the growing client demand for our Customer Success Platform.”

Benioff was Berridge's boss when the two were at Oracle. Berridge was a global account manager there from 1990 to 1998 and went on to serve as a vice president at Interworld for two years before co-founding Bluewolf. Benioff served as senior vice president at Oracle from 1986 to 1999 before becoming CEO of Salesforce, a post he's held for 17 years.

IBM now has made 20 cloud-based acquisitions, with half of them coming in the last year. The acquisition of Bluewolf extends IBM's leadership in the $110 billion hybrid cloud marketplace, officials said.

Bluewolf joins the existing design, analytics and mobile capabilities of iX. The partnership combines IBM iX’s experience design and data integration with Bluewolf's cloud consulting and implementation capabilities. The Salesforce professional services industry is projected at $111 billion, according to “This Way Up: A Blueprint for Sustaining Growth and Increasing Profitability," published last September.

Learning Opportunities

About Bluewolf

Bluewolf has 12 global offices and more than 500 employees in the United States, Europe and Australia. Bluewolf was recognized as a leading vendor in the "The IDC MarketScape: Worldwide Implementation Ecosystem 2015 Vendor Assessment." Bluewolf has delivered more than 9,500 Salesforce projects.

“There is no question that the consumer-grade experience has emerged as a fundamental element in modern business strategy,” Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president of IBM Global Business Services, said in a statement. “Meeting that expectation defines next-generation differentiation and competitive position, and with Bluewolf, we add expertise to scale that capability to the cloud-based capabilities of Salesforce.”

Berridge said Bluewolf in 2001 became Salesforce’s first consulting services partner. He said the IBM acquisition creates the "perfect alliance."

Bluewolf will continue to develop solutions around Salesforce industry implementations. Bluewolf’s foundation is its library of industry-specific assets, accelerators and mutual expertise in the financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, higher education, public sector and new media industries. 

The planned acquisition is expected to close in the second quarter of 2016 and is subject to applicable regulatory review and customary closing conditions. 

IBM's 10 acquisitions over the last year include: Ustream (cloud video services), Clearleap (cloud video services), The Weather Company, Cleversafe (hybrid cloud storage), Meteorix (finance/HR cloud services), StrongLoop, Compose (cloud data services), Merge Healthcare (medical images), AlchemyAPI (cognitive APIs for Deep Learning) and BlueBox (open hybrid clouds).

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