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Thales to open ‘digital factory’ in Asia

India and Australia are potential candidates for Thales’s new coding centre that will support digital transformation efforts

French transport, aerospace, defence and aviation systems heavyweight Thales will open what it calls a “digital factory” in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, with India and Australia potential candidates for the new coding centre.

Thales is also bulking up on developer muscle for its software centre of excellence in Melbourne, Australia – one of two centres in the world, the other being in Paris.

Thales chairman and CEO Patrice Caine announced the APAC digital factory at a company media day in Paris this month.

The company launched a digital factory in Paris last year, and has another one in Montreal, Canada. The idea behind the digital factories is to meld a startup hub with a developer centre for Thales customers’ digital transformation projects, in a bid to inject the best of startup culture and Thales’s long-term experience into projects.

“This digital factory is a key asset for our group and our customers to lead them to digital transformation,” said Caine.

The Paris facility has 150 staff and is expected to grow to 200 by the end of this year.

“We will open a third branch of our digital factory in Asia this year, and that will give us global coverage starting from Paris through North America and into Asia,” said Caine.

The decision on where in Asia the third digital factory will be has yet to be made, but Caine said both India and Australia were possibilities.

Caine also announced the creation of a cyber hub in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that will harden up digital security on local infrastructure projects. He said the UAE was on a “huge digital mission”, and was becoming digitised across its major infrastructure.

Regardless of where it plants the new Asia digital factory, Thales needs developers to help build the $1.2bn OneSky project, a combined civil and military air traffic control system that will supervise Australasian air space as far away as the middle of the Indian Ocean.

The OneSky deal is jointly funded by the government-owned Airservices Australia and the Australian Defence Department.

Thales inked the OneSky deal with the Australian government in February 2018 after a drawn out selection process that has set back completion of the project from 2021 to 2023 and beyond. The first instalment of the project, a new voice communications system, is expected to be completed in 2019.

Caine defended the length of the contract negotiation, noting that because of the high complexity of the deal, it was important to start on an “extremely precise and common understanding with the two customers and ourselves”.

“I think it was a wise decision to take a bit more time before, to save time after,” he said.

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Local software development and support for OneSky will come from the Melbourne Thales centre of excellence.

“It will grow, of course, because of the size of the project,” said Caine, adding that local jobs would also be created along the OneSky supply chain.

The OneSky development team will ramp up from about 290 to a peak of about 325 people in 2021. Thales currently employs more than 3,000 workers in Australia.

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