June 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 2 
Special Features

Design anywhere, build anywhere, work anywhere

As Boeing deploys common process and systems across the enterprise, Operations is playing an active role


Information system architectsSince the late 1990s mergers that turned Boeing into the world’s largest aerospace firm, the company has been burdened by a hodgepodge of duplicative processes and systems. An assessment performed after the mergers calculated the number of software applications companywide at around 4,500.

Today, that total has been reduced to about 3,000. But the company isn’t stopping there. The next step is to create one common, forward-looking information technology architecture and a core of common systems to be used by all business units.

With common processes and systems, work packages can be transferred freely between programs throughout the world. So, if an Integrated Defense Systems program in St. Louis needs extra help, work can be transferred to Commercial Airplanes employees in Puget Sound—or vice versa.

“We’ll be able to design anywhere, build anywhere, move work around the world, and move work around the clock. That’s what this is all about,” says Jim Jamieson, Boeing senior vice president and chief technology officer, who is leading the company’s common processes and systems initiative.

Mandated by senior management, the program has required close coordination between the business units, Jamieson’s Boeing Technology organization, including Boeing Information Technology, and the company’s enterprise process councils. It resulted last year in the transfer of about 5,000 systems professionals to the Boeing Information Technology organization, led by Chief Information Officer Scott Griffin.


Jamieson and his Boeing Technology team are focusing on bringing common processes and systems to new programs, rather than changing the way existing programs operate.

“All the existing programs can continue to run on their existing systems and processes, but for all new programs we will use forward-looking architecture,” Jamieson says. “If an older application breaks, we’ll fix it, but we’re not going to keep improving systems that eventually are going away.”

Jamieson also heads the new Information Technology Investment Board, which includes Griffin, Internal Services leader Rick Stephens and the leaders of the enterprise process councils. All information technology investments of $1 million or more must be approved by the board. It reviews joint presentations by the process council leaders and Boeing Information Technology, and decides which processes and systems will be included in the forward-looking architecture.

The Boeing Operations Council, chaired by John Van Gels, IDS Operations vice president, is among of the most active process councils in the move to common systems. Van Gels says the Operations Council has two primary thrusts: moving to common systems and spreading best practices across the enterprise.

The move to common processes is less of an issue for Operations, since it has made considerable progress in this area over the past few years using its enterprisewide process action teams and task teams. But Operations still has almost 900 manufacturing and quality applications in use, which it is working to trim by about 3 percent by the end of this year.

To do their jobs, Operations people must employ systems used by their counterparts in the engineering, planning, quality and procurement functions.

“If Engineering tells me to build something, we build it based on their systems,” Van Gels says. “So their systems have to fit into my systems. In fact, everything we do as a company—building, planning, inspecting, productivity—it all has to be linked. And that’s a big project.”

The Operations Council has members representing a diverse mix of interests. In addition to Operations representatives from IDS and Commercial Airplanes, there are regular participants from the Engineering, Quality and Supplier Management process councils. Shared Services Group, Boeing Information Technology, Phantom Works, SHEA (Safety, Health and Environmental Affairs) and Labor Relations also have representatives on the council. This lets the Operations Council act as an informal governance board to ensure that money is spent on systems that are both needed and consistent across the enterprise.

The council spends a substantial amount of time evaluating common systems from the standpoint of emerging needs, progress made, retirement of unnecessary systems, and mutual support among business units. To further strengthen these ties, the Operations Council has representatives on both the Engineering and Quality process councils.


A forward-looking system called Cribmaster is a good example of how the Operations Council is working across the enterprise to improve efficiency.

Cribmaster tracks all portable and perishable tools used in the factories. Now part of a common database, Cribmaster cuts costs for both Commercial Airplanes and IDS by giving programs opportunities to find tools elsewhere in the company, rather than buying them new. It also supports volume purchases of new tools used by several programs, reducing costs.

Similar efficiency improvements are taking place not only on production floors but also in offices and areas where engineers work.

The company’s ability to adopt common processes and systems has developed over time, Van Gels says. Immediately after the mergers, the company had a need to standardize, but it was not organized to make the necessary changes.

“At that time, the situation was kind of chaotic,” Van Gels says. “Everybody was doing their own thing. It took us three or four years to baseline where we were.”

AH-64D Apache Longbow site in Mesa, Ariz.Post-merger integration eventually led to the Space and Communications and the Military Aircraft and Missile Systems business units being combined into Integrated Defense Systems. This consolidation created new opportunities for partnering between the military and commercial sides of the company, Van Gels recalls. They started sharing people, best practices, succession plans and various resources, creating new synergies within the company.

Another boon to the move toward uniformity was the creation of the enterprise process councils soon after the mergers. Their charge was to leverage the resources of the company to develop the people, processes and tools to build successful business operations. This included a careful look at asset utilization, making sure the company was building the right things at the right places.


One of the first challenges tackled by the process councils was communication.

“We needed a common language,” Van Gels recalls. “At that time, we all had different systems, different acronyms and different meanings to words.” From there the process councils went on to creating common metrics and identifying best practices that could be used across the enterprise. Then came the move to common processes and systems.

Underlying all this is the move toward a common culture and common decision-making processes. When developing common systems, the first step is to lay out the attributes of each system currently in use,” Van Gels says. After that comes reviewing the requirements of the various programs. In the end, the system that best meets those requirements—the one that makes the best business case—is the winner.

Ultimately, the move to common processes and systems will allow work and people to be moved around the company with minimal transition costs. Van Gels points to United Parcel Service and other well-integrated companies. Regardless of their industry, they project a unified, professional image. Their facilities and factories have the same look. People work from the same knowledge base and are quicker at diagnosing and resolving problems.

Successful companies also realize that change and planning never end, Van Gels adds. “They are always ahead of the game in finding new ways to maintain a competitive advantage.”


Front Page
Contact Us | Site Map| Site Terms | Privacy | Copyright
Copyright© Boeing. All rights reserved.