From Manufacturer to

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Though Boeing still makes pieces of the planes they sell, the recent shift in their business model is undeniable. "We still do manufacturing, but we are moving up the value stream to become a large-scale systems integrator," Griffin says.

The fabled company, founded in 1916, didn't change overnight, and not all of the changes have been visible from the outside. In 2004, for example, Boeing's IT organization was consolidated under Griffin. Last September, it was moved into the Boeing Technology Group, so that the CIO reports to Chief Technology Officer James Jamieson. "We pulled all of our systems people out of the business units, because IT is not a back-office function here," says Griffin. "It is too important to our business model."

Previous development programs for planes such as the 757, built in the early 1980s, brought increasing levels of collaboration with global partners. "The original breakthrough came in the 1980s, when we started inviting people from around the world to Everett," Griffin says. Until recently, Boeing's worldwide partners kept teams onsite in Washington; some companies still maintain a physical presence near Seattle, but it is no longer required.

One longtime Boeing partner is Vought Aircraft Industries Inc., of Dallas, which is building two sections of the 787 fuselage and is partnering with an Italian firm, Alenia Aeronautica S.p.A., to integrate pieces of the fuselage being built in South Carolina and Italy. "We've never done a project before where the roles and responsibilities are as clear and consistent as they are on this one," says Vern Broomall, vice president for quality, engineering and technology at Vought.

"There is a real difference in the business approach, with Boeing taking the role of integrator and the interface to the airlines, and the partners taking responsibility for the major pieces, including their design," Broomall says. "We work directly with the Japanese and the Italians, and have an excellent working relationship with them, while Boeing facilitates the work for all of us." As mandated by Boeing, all the partners use the same design and collaboration software from French vendor Dassault Systemes S.A.

Griffin identifies three kinds of collaboration between teams and companies, although he stresses that the levels shade into each other. Basic collaboration, he says, involves useful information-flow tools such as Microsoft Office and SharePoint. "Everyone calls in, makes their changes in blue, and the team works together," he says. The next level involves suppliers working with their supply chains, and Boeing working closely with its suppliers. This is an effort that encompasses much of the aerospace industry, including Boeing's rivals and multiple tiers of suppliers.

Boeing and other aerospace companies use a product suite from Exostar LLC to share two-dimensional drawings, do forward and reverse auctions, and respond to RFPs. "We use the term 'global enterprise,' to describe it," he says. "It goes beyond talking to strategic suppliers, to having it look like the enterprise. This is a set of tools that allows you to do more than communicate."

This article was originally published on 03-06-2006
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