Boeing team offers steps for building a successful front end for clients

LOS ANGELES -- One group at The Boeing Co. in Seattle managed to change a big, slow company into a fast and nimble one to build a unified front end for customers on the Web.

Some 18 months ago, the Commercial Aviation Services unit spearheaded an initiative to give the front end a common look and feel and to give customes personalized views of whatever information they needed: flight manuals, maintenance documentation, spare parts to order. At the same time, the group was laying the groundwork for new services and new revenue by bringing together disparate systems and data that could be tapped for insights into customer needs.

At Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group Inc.'s Infrastructures for E-Business conference, two members of the Boeing team discussed how they built a business case for Their case included the following steps:

  • Educate, entice and engage. "I actually spent six months doing nothing else," said Barb Claitman, director of e-business at Boeing Commercial Aviation Services. David Gallimore, e-business manager, said Claitman spent hours with company executives, surfing the Web to show them its potential and getting them to envision the possibilities of what the technology could do for Boeing.

    In the short term, that may mean saving customers time -- it's faster to search the site than to sort through reams of paper documentation looking for a particular service bulletin -- and in the long term, it could generate $2 billion in annual sales from selling intellectual property such as engineering drawings.
  • Sell ideas to both the "head" (the businesspeople who will want to know the numbers) and the "heart" (the visionary types who will want to know how life will be better).
  • Define the scope carefully and plan the project incrementally, so you can move forward quickly.
  • Integrate customer-facing capabilities first. Boeing, Claitman explained, was in a race with France-based Airbus Industrie to provide such capabilities to customers, so the company "wasn't going to wait until all the I's were dotted and the T's were crossed." However, she said, functions were rolled out in stages so customers wouldn't be overwhelmed or confused.
  • Begin with existing resources and beg, borrow and steal. The project didn't get its own business plan until it was in its second revision.
  • Embrace the idea that it's easier to ask for forgiveness later than to ask for permission first. The team approached only two or three key executives at a time to sign off on the next stage rather than involve too many people and slow down the process.
  • Establish a council to set priorities. Claitman said she actually delayed this for almost four months -- because a council would have gotten in the team's way.

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