Integrate real-time data from multiple systems and deliver it relevant to diverse user groups
Number of Users
$2.6 million in annual savings; sales cycles cut in half
portal and integration Web services; Documentum databases
Even while speeding along at 500 miles an hour, 30,000 feet above the Earth, commercial airline engines are constantly transmitting information about the status of their parts. Down on the ground, data recorders at Pratt & Whitney, which builds and maintains these engines for carriers such as Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Northwest Airlines and others, capture this information and compare it to required levels, in order to ensure the ongoing health of the engines. It all happens in a flash—and now all that data is accessible in a flash, too.
Gaining access to this info used to be a laborious process. Time was, if you were an airline customer of Pratt, you had to pick up the phone and call them to get an update on your engine. Pratt then had to look up your engine, find your records. They'd get back to you.
Then, four years ago, Pratt installed dedicated, entirely secure cable lines that gave its airline customers direct access to Pratt systems. While a step in the right direction, this proved to be not only costly—to the tune of $2.6 million per year—but it was also nearly as time-consuming for the customer, since the data was not centralized, but was dispersed over some 400 systems. In some ways, the dedicated lines weren't really saving money at all; they were creating more work.
Finally, Pratt hit upon a solution: Bring all the data under one virtual, Web-based roof and customize the experience, depending on who—from the maintenance worker to the airline executive—was looking at the information. In short, an "outward-facing" portal that would give customers and suppliers access to the very same "inward-facing" portal used by Pratt's 12,000 employees. Two sides of the same database coin.
"Aerospace is an extremely complex industry, and we touch our customers in multiple places," says Colin Karsten, manager of information system programs at Pratt & Whitney. "A portal makes perfect sense, because it allows you to keep all systems in one place."
Sensible as it may be, portals are only effective if they deliver something that users want. That's why Pratt opted for software that allows users to customize their browsers—a "My Yahoo!" approach to Pratt's resources. In some cases, this means the content that appears is geared toward a customer who is authorized to make purchases. For others, say an engineer, the screen will emphasize information on maintenance and offer a way to track the upgrade history of any particular engine or part. Elsewhere, more than 400 suppliers now have access to drawings and documents for the parts they build for Pratt. Partner companies and clients participate more intimately in contract bids in the "Virtual Proposal Center," where engineers, suppliers and partners collaborate on a proposal in cyberspace. Time saved: 45 days out of a typical 90-day proposal process.
Historically, one hurdle to good systems has been how much proprietary info they expose, but, says Glenn Kelman, VP of marketing at Plumtree Software Inc., "Transparency is becoming normal now." And Pratt's inside-out approach to self-service seems to have come just as customers were reaching their breaking point. "Customers were frustrated. They asked us, 'Can't you do something? Can you help us out?' " says Karsten. Now, customer satisfaction is way up—and climbing every quarter. "Our customers are struggling to stay alive," he adds. "Any way we can offer better information at a cheaper price, it helps."
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