RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – IBM (NYSE: IBM) is taking another significant step in efforts to expand into business analytics software and services by launching a new operation in Beijing.

The China Analytics Solution Center will employ some 300 people and is the third of six analytics operations that will open this year. Two have already been announced in Berlin and Tokyo. Forthcoming ones include New York, Washington, D.C. and London. IBM plans to hire or retrain as many as 4,000 people to man the centers.

The opening of the Beijing center comes a week after IBM agreed to pay $1.2 billion to acquire SPSS, an analytics software firm in Chicago.

Worldwide, the data analytics market is expected to reach $25 billion this year, up four percent, according to analyst firm Gartner.

"As companies look to get more productive, to compete globally, to be world-class, we do see more and more opportunities for the consulting business," Frank Kern, president of (GBS), told Reuters in an interview.

The centers are part of the GBS unit which produced some 20 percent, or $19.6 billion, of IBM $103 billion in revenue for 2008, according to Dow Jones news service. The GBS business unit grew 9 percent last year and could reach double-digit growth this year.

IBM’s China center will be staffed with consultants, software specialist and mathematicians. Another 300 people will be added, based on demand. It will be part of the IBM China Business Innovation Center in China’s capital.

According to the company, initial analytics efforts will focus on “smarter” utility grid, supply chain management, transportation, traffic and water management.

"Business leaders today need to move beyond intuition to a more predictive capability and certainty about outcomes,” said D.C. Chien, chief executive officer of IBM Greater China. “It is now possible to see patterns in vast amounts of data to extract critical insights and move to a new level of enterprise intelligence.

“Not only does the ability to create smarter digital and physical infrastructures herald the ability to improve the quality of life for our citizens, it is fundamental to improving competitive advantage and delivering economic growth,” he added.