Here Comes the Hard Part

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.

Here Comes the Hard Part

But there still were hard parts to come, technically. When it came to mimicking the system that its 250 inside sales, branch and pure customer-service folks used to manage orders, it was not an overnight proposition.

"We didn't want to re-create the order-entry process," says Lacik. In this case, the technology staff "didn't even know the right questions to ask" in order to create a new computer-based system.

It has taken about 20 "yeah, but" sessions with sales people, so far, to figure out what's needed. And it has taken nearly three years, because issues as simple as whether a customer has enough credit to make a purchase have to be handled deftly. In the past, whether a customer had enough credit to complete the sale wasn't figured out until after all the other details of the transaction were finalized. Now, the customer is first kicked over to the credit department (which also uses Siebel) for review and assistance.

But the resuscitation of Aviall's sales doesn't depend on the launch of the order management system (which, while under way, won't be completed until May). It's already happened.

With adapters in place, sales people working the Siebel system could immediately check prices and availability of parts by querying the Lawson system. And the combination of Xelus and Catalyst made sure that the right parts got to the right customers at the right time. No empty boxes.

Meanwhile, new radio guns are helping speed up the order-picking inside the warehouse. And as customers visit the distribution facility, the largest in the aviation parts business, it is making the "very strong visual impression" that Kienzle hoped for.

Now, sales are growing at not just double-digit rates, but almost doubling—to $222 million in the September quarter, up from $127.8 million a year ago. The big impetus: a $3 billion, 10-year contract to sell and distribute spare parts for a widely used engine made by Rolls-Royce PLC, signed after the building was completed. It's the biggest deal in Aviall history.

When you fly into the dark, such results aren't guaranteed. You get "arrows in the back, sometimes," says Justice. "Sometimes, it pays big dividends."

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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