Sharing Their Way to Speed and Profits

Collaboration technologies are playing an increasingly key role in automakers' efforts to cut costs and build vehicles faster and better.

The Big Three are tapping the Internet so workers, supply chain partners, dealers and even customers can share business processes, decision-making, workflow management and information.

Over the past four or five years, CIO Marv Adams says, Ford has become more electronically bonded to its customers, suppliers and dealers.

"We have engineers all over the globe who use collaboration technology as they interact with each other and suppliers to collaborate real time and realize the benefits of simultaneous engineering," Adams says.

One example is Ford's C3P system, which tears down the walls between business and manufacturing processes by linking the company's computer-aided design, management and engineering systems and product information management systems. Ford's C3P product development software manages engineering data and gives Ford's in-house users and its suppliers access to that information.

The system enables Ford and its suppliers to collaborate closely because they are working from a common set of parts and component specifications. This speeds product development because it eliminates the need for engineers to search through numerous databases looking for parts information.

Another key collaborative system is Ford's central database, known as its customer knowledge system, or CKS, which acts as the integration point for dealers and customers on the Internet and in the call centers. The CKS provides real-time information on all aspects of the customer experience, says Kristin Odeh, director of global consumer systems at Ford.

Odeh says the CKS currently houses some 60 million customer records that dealers can access to produce customized mailings for consumers. She says there are also Web tools in place so dealers can build their own Web sites with the same look and feel as Ford.com, the corporate site. In addition, Ford dealers and customers can access a complete online inventory of vehicles and parts across all dealerships, she says.

GM has linked its business to its customers through GM BuyPower, a one-stop online shopping site that allows a consumer to build the exact vehicle he wants, find it at a nearby dealership, get incentive information, request the dealer's best price and even apply for financing, explains CIO Ralph Szygenda.

For GM BuyPower, the company worked side-by-side with its dealers to create a seamless online shopping and buying experience for consumers. On the technology side, GM incorporated Java 2 Enterprise Edition to build a single infrastructure for GM BuyPower that it says allowed scalability, flexibility and rapid deployment in multiple languages and currencies.

Another Internet application, GM SupplyPower, is a customizable, secure Web portal that allows suppliers to conduct real-time transactions with multiple GM organizations to complete a variety of business interactions, according to Szygenda.

GM's DealerWorld is an online portal that provides comprehensive support for the day-to-day business activities of GM dealers. DealerWorld gives dealerships access to GM departments, including sales, finance, parts and service.

DaimlerChrysler kicked off its internal eCollaboration project in June. Expanding on its IBM Lotus Notes—and Domino—based IT infrastructure, DaimlerChrysler will implement Lotus Software Group's workgroup workflow applications, advanced mobile support and real-time collaboration offerings to its employees on a worldwide basis to optimize internal processes.

This project directly follows the completion of a five-year infrastructure project focused on implementing Lotus software in 80 locations around the globe.

Jim Hall, an analyst at New York-based Deloitte Consulting, says automakers are wise to invest in collaborative commerce processes and technologies because they have the potential to enhance the abilities of all participants in the automotive supply chain participants to collaboratively design, build, sell and service products faster, more efficiently and more cost-effectively.

And that goes straight to the bottom line of making and selling cars faster and more cheaply.

PROJECT STRATEGIES OF THE BIG THREE

GM

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To enable consumers to build, buy and finance customized vehicles over the Internet.

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To give dealers electronic access to GM’s sales, finance, parts and service departments.

Ford

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To electronically link design, management, engineering and product data management processes.

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To provide dealers and customers with a single access point for real-time customer information.

DaimlerChrysler

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To optimize internal processes with new, real-time workgroup/workflow applications and advanced mobile support.

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To link all aspects of vehicle design, production, finance, marketing, procurement and logistics operations via the Internet.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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