High Performance System Development At Porsche

To the world, Porsche means state-of-the-art automobile design and performance. But at the North American importer, Porsche Cars North America (PCNA), headquartered in Atlanta, not all the IT systems were up to the same standard.

In 1995, PCNA concluded that its vehicle management system (VMS), developed in-house in 1984 when PCNA became an independent company, was ready for a redesign. "It was just not flexible enough to accommodate a changing business world," says John Thompson, general manager of Porsche World Systems, based in Reno, Nevada.

A VMS, Thompson explains, is used to track every car from the customer's order, through the production and shipping process, to final delivery. Porsche dealers can't order as many cars as they want. Because of production limitations, Porsche Germany tells PCNA how many cars can be ordered in North America (normally about 15,000 cars per year), and PCNA allocates them to the dealers based on the previous month's sales.

Porsche builds its cars to order, so accuracy in options and pricing is essential, Thompson says. "Unlike car companies that offer three flavors of everything, we have a very complex order guide. The guide is by model: one for the 911 Coupe, one for the 911 Targa, one for the 911 Turbo, etc. Porsche builds cars to customer specifications, so the order is key. Our system required a level of flexibility that is fairly unique in the business."

Once generated at the dealer, the order is sent via satellite network from the dealer to PCNA's AS/400 Model 510 in Reno. From there it is transmitted via the IBM Advantis network to Germany, and production begins. When complete, cars are shipped to Charleston, South Carolina, the port-of-entry, given pre- delivery inspection (PDI), prepped, trucked to dealers and delivered to customers.

At every point in the production cycle, information on each car is reported to the VMS so that PCNA can keep the customer informed of his car's status. "We can look up the reference number and tell him if it's in production, on a boat or in Charleston," Thompson says. "Basically, it's like inventory management."

It's inventory management, but on an enterprise-wide scale. "We're a car company and the VMS is the core and guts of our whole enterprise," Thompson says. "We use it, our financial systems use it, the dealers use it, Charleston uses it, everybody uses the same system. There's security built into it. The dealers, for example, only get the functionality we give them. But everything hooks into it: the warranty system and the recall and post sales systems are tied it by the vehicle identification number." .

According to Thompson, PCNA had experience using Lansa as an AS/400 development tool since 1990. "We decided to develop the new system in Lansa because we wanted to take advantage of the benefits of a 4GL and of the design parts of the software," Thompson says. "Lansa has a very good design module, the Rapid User Object Modeling (RUOM) tool, that lets you automatically generate large portions of the application."

The chief advantage of the new system is its flexibility, according to Thompson. "It's table driven," he says. "When you have a change in the business you can accommodate that change without changing the software. We designed it to be ultimately flexible. For example, if we are required to keep new data on a car entering the country because of a legal requirement or other reason, it's very easy to set that up."

With the old system, two or three full-time programmers were necessary for maintenance. Now, Thompson says, the software will handle changes without them. Besides end user training, transition to the new system has been problem free.

Eventually, the VMS will become a Porsche standard. "Porsche Germany is taking a little bit more aggressive hand in importer systems, which makes sense," Thompson says. "The plan is to standardize. There are seven Porsche importers around the world. All of them have had their own systems, which means seven groups supporting them. If you only have one system, you only need one support group. We're also developing a warranty system, completely in Lansa, that will be used by all the importers for warranty reporting to Porsche Germany."

Taking advantage of the Internet is the next step for PCNA. "We have huge plans in that direction," Thompson says. "Lansa is capable of running on multiple platforms. It's very portable. As soon as you have developed an application, you have developed for a green screen, for a GUI, for the Internet. It's the same one, it just depends on how you want to use it. We can recompile RDML (the 4GL that you develop in Lansa) without any modification and create HTML screens or pages that you can serve off an AS/400. At least we'll do that to Web enable our dealer system, and possibly certain other Lansa applications as well."