BTO’s Key Technology Decisions

Build-To-Order’s Sateesh Lele has to be ready to flip the technology switch quickly.

Lele, chief information officer of BTO, has been busy lining up and evaluating vendors to be prepared when the company gets enough funding to build out its technology infrastructure.

BTO is starting a custom-manufacturing business from scratch, to revamp the automaking industry the same way Dell reshaped computer making.

To accomplish that goal, Lele has made several key choices. He says the most important choices are focused on applications, which will be tied closely to the company’s business processes.

“Most of our key decisions are on the application layer,” says Lele.

Like Dell, BTO is hoping to convert an order to cash quickly by invoicing and delivering a car in 14 days. To do that he’ll need a tightly run technology ship. Dell’s model is based on getting cash from a sale and garnering some kind of return before having to pay suppliers.

Lele is evaluating two primary platforms for his infrastructure—Microsoft’s .Net architecture and Linux. Once that decision is made—Lele is evaluating both possibilities—the focus on applications will come quickly.

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For customer relationship management software, Lele says the race is between Epiphany and Chordiant. To Lele, those two providers can supply the marketing and customer loyalty support BTO wants.

Behind what customer relationship software to use, Lele rates his choice of product data management supplier as a close second. Since BTO plans to have numerous designs taken to production quickly, it’ll have to be able to coordinate with Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR), BTO’s British car designer.

Agile beat out Matrix to be BTO’s supplier. The design collaboration process will go like this: TWR, which also uses Agile software, will hold a master design copy and initiate change based on BTO’s feedback. The key is to manage the database so design parameters aren’t breached and changes can be tracked.

Contrary to what many technology executives say, Lele doesn’t rate enterprise resource planning applications at top priority yet even though it’ll have to link up to its order process. He says that software is a commodity and he’ll evaluate the usual suspects: SAP, J.D. Edwards and Oracle.

Although much of the auto industry uses SAP, Lele says he’s leaning toward other vendors because the German software maker doesn’t offer a lot of flexibility on custom business processes. “What ERP system you use internally almost doesn’t matter as long as you offer a slick and quick interface to suppliers,” says Lele.

He says Tibco and Vitria are contenders to supply BTO’s middleware, which is also becoming a commodity.

As for hardware, Lele is looking toward Dell Intel-powered servers. These will be able to accommodate him whether he chooses Microsoft or Linux. He’s also not going out a limb when it comes to networking, most likely going with Cisco Systems.

“Once we get funding we’ll be off to the races,” says Lele. “For now we’re doing as much as we can on a shoestring budget.”