IBM and Air Canada in partnership to develop airline IT

Seven years ago, Air Canada took what at the time was an unusual step and decided to outsource all of its IT operations to IBM. Now, the company is making IBM its partner, hoping to recoup some of its expenses in developing airline-specific technology.

The new contract, which was signed last week, is worth US$908 million over seven years and provides for IBM to manage Air Canada's global IT infrastructure. The agreement also makes the two companies investment partners, and through IBM labs, they will develop new products and services for the airline industry, said John Segaert, senior director of IT Operations at Montreal-based Air Canada.

IBM will also help Air Canada convert from a multiprotocol network to a pure IP (Internet protocol) network, which would make its various applications interoperable and reduce the number of directories needed. The companies will also design new interfaces with the large reservations systems, which publish airline fares and use legacy technology. As much as possible, Air Canada will upgrade to newer, IP-compliant technology, Segaert said.

The project also includes an employee portal with a Lightweight Directory Access Protocol Version 3.0-compliant directory.

"We figure to have it done in 18 to 24 months," Segaert said. "The cleaning up of older things will take a while to work their way out."

While overhauling the network, Air Canada hopes to improve some of its products and services, including in-flight Internet access and airport kiosks, to "turn costs into profit," Segaert said.

In 1994, Air Canada moved its IT department onto the IBM payroll. At the same time, the airline retained IT professionals who were experts on the regulations that affect how certain technologies, such as reservations systems, are configured.

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