CGI creates e-commerce chair at University of Waterloo

A partnership between one of Canada’s largest integrators and a university known for producing IT success stories will see the creation of an R&D chair in e-business, a research centre and an H.R. protocol to give co-op students more real-world experience.

The University of Waterloo Monday said CGI will donate $1.5 million for the chair and a lab, which would be launched next spring. The H.R. protocol is an agreement to facilitate academic exchanges, including access to graduates and increased participation in the school’s co-op programs. The lab will be based in the University of Montreal, which will develop prototypes of successful e-business models based on the work conducted by the University of Waterloo.

The lab is distinct from the “research centre of excellence” which is more of a concept whereby CGI will supply the University of Waterloo with case-study examples from key clients that can be studied by the research chair.

“We’re just dedicating grey matter to e-commerce,” said CGI spokeswoman Eileen Murphy. “It’s practical by marrying university with business, but it’s even more practical to look at a client with specific business needs.”

Key verticals from which CGI will choose clients include financial services, telecommunications and government.

Murphy said representatives from the University of Waterloo and CGI will meet on regular basis for a management committee-style session to determine what the R&D chair will study. University of Waterloo spokesman Martin Van Nierop said the school was already interviewing potential candidates for the position. “We have lots of people who could fit the bill,” he said.

The University of Waterloo would like the initial partnership to develop into a much more than the R&D chair, Van Nierop said. The school hopes to see CGI provide additional co-op job placements, more adjunct appointments and potentially, undergraduate scholarships.

“In order to attract good students, you have to give them some incentives,” he said. “In our case, we look to be able to tell an undergrad that they can come here and do co-op (and) thereby underwrite a lot of the cost of their education.”

Murphy said the partnership should help companies like CGI cope with the IT skills shortage and improve the school’s ability to train its graduates. “We need to feed the pipeline,” she said. “We’re getting something out of this — as are the universities — but hopefully we’re helping fuel practical issues which professors will then incorporate into their classes.”

The skills shortage is acute in Quebec, Murphy said, where McGill reportedly had to turn away engineering students because they didn’t have the lab facilities. This has a potential negative impact on companies like CGI. “Every time we sign an outsourcing agreement, certainly we have our own people, but sometimes we need to hire more people pretty quickly,” she said.

As Murphy explained it, the University of Waterloo will be doing the first interface of how e-business is done through the research centres of excellence, while Montreal will work on future e-business practices. Van Nierop expected to see the two schools collaborate on the results.

“They’re kind of doing their own lab there. There will be chatter between the universities, no doubt,” he said.

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