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Oracle has promised "business as usual" for hundreds of banks and financial institutions running software from I-flex Solutions, by pledging continued support for IBM after Oracle decided to take a majority stake in the IBM partner.

Oracle announced it was buying a chunk of the banking software specialist I-flex on Tuesday, in a strategy taking Oracle's applications "beyond ERP".

I-flex serves 575 banks in 115 countries with software spanning corporate, consumer, investment and internet banking, asset management and investor services.

Many of I-flex's customers will be running their I-flex software in conjunction with databases, business intelligence tools and middleware from one of Oracle's biggest rivals, IBM. Banks are conservative by nature and will no-doubt be anxious to see I-flex continue to support their IBM infrastructure and tools under Oracle.

Apparently recognizing this, Oracle president Charles Phillips promised: "The I-flex products will continue to run on IBM software and hardware."

I-flex will also continue to operate with a fair degree of independence. The present I-flex management team will continue to run the company while they align product development, sales, marketing and services with Oracle. Mumbai-based I-flex will remain on the Bombay Stock Exchange and the National Stock Exchange of India. Phillips, though, is joining I-flex's board as a member.

In a nod to institutions running systems from both IBM and Oracle, Phillips said in a statement that the new relationship with I-flex would align Oracle "more closely with IBM solutions for our joint banking customers."

News of the deal follows recent speculation that Oracle was to buy I-flex. Under the deal, Oracle plans to purchase 41% of shares in I-flex from Citigroup Venture Capital Investments, valued at $650m, and 21% from public shareholders.

The share deal continues Oracle's drive to add vertical and technological expertise to its applications, and comes in the wake of a string or recent purchases. This year's M&A activity has included the Retek purchase, which added retail specialization, while security was beefed-up with the Oblix acquisition.

Oracle's chief executive Larry Ellison called banking a strategic industry for his company, adding that I-flex is the "hottest" company in the banking industry. "Oracle's overall application strategy is to go beyond ERP and offer customers richer industry-specific functionality. I-flex gets us there in banking," Ellison said in a statement.®

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