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Feature

Avnet Greases Supply Chain

A new software architecture speeds this distributor's global supply chain.
Getting accurate data to the right place with lightning speed has always been easier said than done. Now, after years of circling around that goal, electronics and technology distributor Avnet Inc., No. 3 on this year's InformationWeek 500 list, finally seems to have nailed it. A new software architecture is what made it possible, and a global supply chain with less friction is the result.

A new way to integrate data has had a huge impact on Avnet, Chapman says.

A new way to integrate data has had a huge impact on Avnet, Chapman says.
Avnet's technology team has long faced the challenge of minimizing, if not eliminating, the many things that can interfere with information flow: the multivendor systems that result from acquisitions and mergers, incongruent data formats, and hand-coded connections to other companies' computers. At one point, Avnet had 18 enterprise-resource-planning systems in one division alone. "It was an information-management and -propagation problem," says chief technology officer Bill Chapman.

The solution was to create a software layer within Avnet's IT infrastructure that makes for a better handshake among systems, whether they're inside the company or out. That's important because Avnet's customers and suppliers interact with the company in different ways: EDI, the RosettaNet E-commerce consortium, Web browsers, and application-to-application interfaces are all options.

"The impact to the business has been phenomenal," Chapman says. It used to take Avnet hours --sometimes up to half a day--to generate price quotes for customers, as it accumulated and analyzed all the necessary data. That process has been shortened to about 20 minutes.

Avnet's divisions are busy with similar projects. In August, Avnet Partner Solutions, which distributes servers, storage products, and software, debuted a service that simplifies how orders are handled. Partners can now submit configuration or price-quote requests that span all the division's product lines. Collaboration capabilities facilitate communications between the partners who submit requests and the Avnet salespeople assigned to them. The result: faster and more accurate order processing.