IBM Canada Ltd. Thursday said it has opened a centre in Montreal dedicated to aiding Canadian clients with product lifecycle management issues, with Bombardier Aerospace as the flagship customer.

The PLM centre of excellence is designed in aid manufacturing companies in guiding product development cycles from conception through to production. Aerospace is one of the vertical markets IBM is pursuing as a customer, but other industries of interest include automotive, oil and gas, chemicals and electronics.

The Montreal facility isn’t an R&D effort, unlike IBM’s software centres. “It’s more consolidation and regrouping of (IBM’s) PLM expertise within the same organization,” said Bernard Roy, industrial sector leader at IBM Canada’s business consulting services.

“We want to be sure that we will have this centre linked with other PLM centres around the world in order to give Canadian companies access to worldwide expertise.”

Montreal-based Bombardier Aerospace has signed a five-year contract with IBM for an undisclosed amount. By leaning on IBM’s expertise for product lifecycle management, Bombardier will be able to concentrate on other areas in the company, said spokesperson Sylvie Gauthier, like its customer service improvement program.

As part of the relationship with IBM Canada, 40 Bombardier employees will move into the PLM centre full-time and join the ranks of IBM. They will continue to work with Bombardier on PLM issues, said Gauthier, but may work with IBM’s future clientele for the centre.

By having a team within the PLM centre, “it gives us a certain flexibility in the management of resources when we have peak periods,” she said. “Yes, there are (former) Bombardier employees who know our products very well but we’ll also have access to a whole centre that’s developing the expertise. It widens the availability of the expertise.”

The affected Bombardier employees will make the transition over the next two months. IBM also plans to hire 200 more workers to staff the centre.

IBM will maintain PLM staff in other Canadian cities, said Roy, but their activities will be co-ordinated through Montreal. That way, clients that don’t have access to the Montreal centre will still be able to benefit from local expertise.

Because of heterogeneous nature of most company’s IT environments, the PLM staff will also have to be knowledgeable about tools from providers other than IBM. In the case of Bombardier, that’s software from Dassault Systems. Bombardier uses its design tools including Catia, Enovia and Delmia.

The five-year deal with Bombardier was designed with a large customer in mind, said Roy, but there will be options available for IBM’s small and medium-sized clients. “Within the centre we want to give them access to (PLM) technology,” he said. “That will give them the capability to bid on contracts outside of Canada.”

In 2003, Bombardier Aerospace signed a seven-year deal with CGI Group Inc. to manage its help desk, data centre and infrastructure management. Last year, Bombardier said it was working with SAP’s NetWeaver product for portal management projects.

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