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GM's Worldbook Project Aims To Save Troubled Automaker

GM's Worldbook project standardizes data on engineering specs worldwide, to help GM build cars more quickly and at lower costs.

General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner remained in Washington Wednesday, with plans to testify a second day about the danger of an auto industry collapse without a government bailout. Wagoner testified Tuesday that the consumer credit crunch and costly plant closings have created urgent problems for GM, despite months of efforts to restructure the company for profitability.

While the efforts of GM's Information Systems and Services division to help the automaker cut costs and improve market responsiveness represent just one small piece of GM's vast efforts to turn itself around, they have their significance. Massive business transformation is often made up of many smaller organizational efforts focused on company-wide objectives.

GM's IS division, under the direction of CIO Ralph Szygenda, has in recent months modernized and standardized the IT systems that run 160 plants worldwide, and has an ambitious effort under way to get the company's many IT outsourcing service providers worldwide to work together as one big team and follow a common set of standards and processes.

But there's another project under way that GM's IS division said it's ready to talk about, called Worldbook. Almost complete, Worldbook is a three-year effort to standardize and simplify the process for distributing vehicle specification information from GM's engineering operations into its global production and supply chain operations.

"One of the key things is how do we work faster, less costly, and without extra steps," said Adriana Karaboutis, GM's global purchasing and supply chain process information officer, and one of the GM managers that's heading the Worldbook project, in an interview Monday. "Worldbook is all about efficiency and speed."

GM has large engineering operations in six countries: the United States, Germany, Brazil, Korea, China, and India. These "engineering homerooms" develop the specifications for parts and materials to be used for vehicle construction, and then release that information to downstream purchasing and supply chain systems used for production at plants worldwide. These systems manage such things as vehicle orders, scheduling, planning, materials, logistics, and invoicing.

Prior to project Worldbook, the supply chain systems could only interpret vehicle specification data that came from the geographically closest engineering homeroom. That information distribution process grew increasingly segregated over many years, as different regions require different specs based on regulatory requirements and cultural preferences, such as vehicle weights, bumper heights, or horn tones.

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