Perkins Takes Smart Approach to Online Parts Catalog

Books and diesel engines have almost nothing in common. But you know how Amazon.com makes recommendations for other purchases based on what's in your shopping cart?

Perkins Engines Co., a Peterborough, England-based division of Caterpillar Inc., is doing something similar with its online sales of diesel engine parts.

The company is in the middle of rolling out an e-business initiative designed to capture more aftermarket sales (such as by selling more replacement and repair parts for its diesel engines). Using software from Enigma Inc. in Burlington, Mass., Perkins has developed an XML-based online parts catalog for use by 4,000 distributors in 160 countries.

One key element of the system is that when the user puts some engine part in the "holding bay" (similar to a shopping cart), the software has embedded business rules that suggest related or highly recommended parts to purchase.

For example, if a user puts an oil filter in the holding bay, the application automatically suggests a fuel filter and antifreeze. Or if the user is ordering a piston, he'll obviously needed an engine gasket to finish the job.

That's a huge strategic improvement for the business. "It isn't just a parts catalog. We wanted to use it to change the selling process of the dealer," says Ian McGrady, e-business project director at Perkins Engines. "One of the issues at our dealerships was that we'd do well selling specific parts, but we wouldn't sell the whole basket of [related] parts that was required to do the job. We would leak those sales to generic parts [dealers]."

The intelligence and business rules in the software application also reduce the knowledge needed by clerks at the dealer's parts counter -- a place where employees are just beginners and there's high turnover.

The parts catalog has other advanced features, such as the following:

  • Automatic calculation of how many replacement parts to keep in inventory based on how many engines are in operation.

  • Provision of newer parts when a superseded part number is entered into the holding bay.

  • Integration with local inventory information from the distributor's enterprise system.

The application has a Web-based interface and allows the company to keep its parts catalog up to date in the field. Previously, the catalog was distributed every six months in CD-ROM and paper editions -- but it was six months out of date by the time it was published, McGrady says.

He says the new software is now being rolled out to top-tier distributors in Europe and has met with positive feedback and no resistance.

However, a classic problem with supply chain projects lies in integrating thousands of small business partners that may have nothing more than a PC and fax machine. "Technology lag is a big problem in small dealerships," McGrady says. So Perkins Engines has taken a creative approach to solving that problem: distributing DVD discs containing the new catalog.

The DVDs can be read on DVD-compatible PCs. McGrady says that stopgap measure will end once the distributors get Internet access and can use the Web-based interface for the Enigma software.

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