% fortune -ae paul murphy

Solid American Brass

This is the second imaginary company I want to use to frame IT infrastructure issues. The goal today is to lay out it's core business plan and set up the question: what computer systems technology makes sense for them and how should it be structured?

In brief, a guy named Frank Solid has put together a group whose collective goal is to make high quality brass products for the home construction and renovation markets. They're committed to manufacturing in the United States, plan on developing their domestic markets first, and expect that growing credibility with the American design community will later drive expansion into world wide export marketing.

Their plan is aggressive, with a third year revenue target of $500 million, $80 million to burn getting there, and product plans ranging from exterior door knobs to kitchen faucets and specialist lighting fixtures.

From an IT perspective some of the things that count include:

  1. the commitment to American manufacturing implies a commitment to highly automated production and quality control processes driving production labour costs down to an almost insignificant component of plant gate pricing. Figure eight parallel manufacturing lines, six of them geared to sub one thousand production runs, on-site custom packaging (including printing), and extensive logistics support.

    Note that the nature of the market means that the company can expect a lot of customer anxiety about product design, delivery, and quality issues - meaning that the designers on the company's front line need to be protected from customer calls on where something is in the production process, on how to expedite shipping, or whether a twisted brass screw can be replaced at Home Depot. As a result the plant gate logistics operation has to be planned as part call center, part service center, and part shipping center.

  2. because they see quality as the most important differentiator for their products they want to offer both custom design services and lifetime product warranties. As a result marketing and design functions are to be integrated, with manufacturing acting as a combined quality control and production resource to the designers;

  3. because they're the new guys in this market, they expect to spend a lot of money on face to face selling - at trade shows, to contractor suppliers, and among people who work in home and materials design; and,

  4. Most of the group have deep roots in the Minneapolis/St Paul area and they expect to set up their headquarters and initial production plant on the outskirts of Minneapolis a few miles from Frank's home in Wayzeta.

Now, as you can imagine, my first reaction to the IT challenge is going to be based on finding the right ERP/SCM software to run this business on Solaris with Sun Rays and Mac laptops - but that's the real challenge: given these start-up parameters (and any others we need along the way) what's the right thing to do here? - and what other conditions do we need to establish to discuss it?

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.