Outside the Box

By Tom Steinert-Threlkeld  |  Posted 2003-01-17 Print this article Print

The aviation-parts company was having trouble shipping out its goods. Then it found salve for its self-inflicted wounds.

When Joe Lacik arrived at Aviall in January 2000 as chief information officer, the supplier of airplane parts and components had lost control of its inventory.

PDF Download An installation of Lawson Software to keep track of the availability and prices of the 360,000 parts it buys and then supplies to airplane operators and owners had gotten "ugly," he says. The company couldn't count on the price-tracking software to work with its warehouse management and inventory control software from Catalyst International, or its purchasing-forecasting software from Xelus.

The result? The wrong parts got to the wrong customers. And sometimes, not even that; it got so bad that in some instances, Aviall sent out empty boxes to its customers, Lacik asserts.

The company's sales fell 8%, from$404.2 million in 1998 to $371.9 million in 1999. So when Lacik and new Chief Executive Paul Fulchino arrived in the first month of 2000, the charge was simple: Clean up the mess.

"Aviall didn't have a middleware vision," says Mike Justice, who handled the account for Lawson. Translation: Aviall hadn't figured out what it needed in between all of its new software to get the different products to work together.

Yes, the wounds were self-inflicted. Aviall's own technology staff had picked the software and installed it. And Lacik's predecessor, Margaret Bouline, left the company in September 1999.

Aviall had committed to spending as much as $40 million on overhauling its hardware, software and facilities. But the overhaul was double-edged. At the same time that Lacik had to come up with a "middleware vision," the company's headquarters and operations were moving to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. A new 200,000-square-foot warehouse would replace a 132,000-square-foot facility in Farmers Branch, five miles away.

This was supposed to be a crowning moment. Besides improving operations and lowering cost, the new building would sport "an impressive facade," according to Senior VP of Operations Charles Kienzle. Good for marketing. But that could backfire, if the company's systems didn't work right.

Lacik's answer? Find a way to get the Lawson, Xelus and Catalyst software to exchange data. And while tackling that task, make sure the data also could be swapped with other key applications brought in to help it fill boxes: its new customer service software from Siebel Systems and its Web commerce software from BroadVision.

Tom was editor-in-chief of Interactive Week, from 1995 to 2000, leading a team that created the Internet industry's first newspaper and won numerous awards for the publication. He also has been an award-winning technology journalist for the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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