Winnebago Industries

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2006-10-15 Email Print this article Print

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Winnebago Industries: Road Rules
Headquarters: Forest City, IA
2005 revenue: $992 million
2005 net income: $65 million

It seems fitting that a company whose success is based on fulfilling its customers' desire for self-sufficiency while traveling the open road prides itself on being largely self-sufficient when it comes to business software.

In fact, if there were ever a poster child for homegrown software, it's Winnebago Industries, a leading manufacturer of motor homes. Based in Forest City, Iowa, the company eschews software packages. Instead, it prefers to create and adapt its own applications, some of which date back decades.

"We've developed almost all the systems ourselves," says Dave Ennen, director of MIS. By crafting its own software to fit the company's business needs, Ennen believes his unit is able to be more responsive to users, while ensuring that systems costs are kept low.

This approach has certainly paid off; Winnebago tied for No. 84 in the Baseline 500. In fiscal 2005, the company had net income of $65 million on $992 million in revenue. "Our homegrown systems meet our users' needs, and we change them as we keep improving our processes," Ennen adds.

Some examples of the homegrown approach are the company's material requirements planning (MRP) system, which is used to plan materials needs and schedule production. Others include the sales order management and purchasing systems. All run on an IBM zSeries mainframe. A couple of exceptions are the financial management system, an older Infinium package running on an IBM iSeries midrange computer; and a computer-aided design (CAD) engineering package from Unigraphics (now UGS).

One of the significant benefits of depending on homegrown software is agility. "We can act quickly to change our code, without having to wait for an ERP vendor," Ennen says. "What would take them months, we can do in days."

In this way, according to Ennen, Winnebago is able to keep its information-technology costs in check while still providing the flexibility the company needs to compete in today's market for motor homes.

For instance, the company recently added a new model to its fleet of motor homes, which required making changes in the MRP system, including a new bill of materials to support production of the new vehicle. "This took a few hundred hours of development," Ennen says. "We have the code, so we try to reuse it."

Although most of the company's applications were written in Cobol, Winnebago is starting to use Natural, a fourth-generation application development tool from Software AG. "It cuts down on development time," Ennen adds.

For the 2007 model year, Winnebago is offering 20 different models in 86 different floor plans. Each can be outfitted with a wide variety of options, including colors, wood stains and drawer pulls. "It's like building a house on a car," Ennen adds. Prices range from a low of about $60,000 up to $287,000 for the largest, fanciest models. The company built 10,637 Class A (the large, square or boxy vehicles) and Class C (cab-over models with a van-size chassis) units last year.

Ennen believes the successful CIO needs to combine cost consciousness with common sense. At the same time, he doesn't believe in skimping when it comes to keeping the I.T. staff happy. "You need to give your staff the tools they need to be effective," he says. "and you need to let them have a say in it." By Doug Bartholomew

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