Work In Progress: GM's Ongoing Improvements



General Motors has torn down and rebuilt its IT operations, but it still has ongoing home-improvement projects. At the core, the infrastructure remains a work in progress. The automaker runs 290 plants, and it's leveraging a common IT infrastructure by centralizing tasks such as Web applications. "We took out 200 servers in the first half of the year," says Clifton Triplett, GM's information officer for manufacturing and quality. "I'm just getting warmed up."

GM has improved network reliability by deploying diverse access lines into a new high-speed global network and by implementing quality-of-service parameters. "We've gone from a garbage pile to a pretty hardened environment," says Kirk Gutmann, GM's CIO for global product development and service.

A reliable infrastructure is required to handle the complex applications GM operates. For example, it continues to focus on its 3-D virtual-reality computer systems that help engineer cars as well as build them on the production lines. Among other things, engineers are developing simulation capabilities that ultimately will replace physical crash tests.

Collaboration tools help with such efforts. The goal is for all engineers to work on files in instant-messenger mode. So far, GM has 1,700 engineers working this way; about 20,000 more will be added when the project is finished.

Customer-relationship management is another pet project. GM has integrated customer information into a single database that contains data on those who opted for competitors' products as well as those who bought from GM.

GM gets much of this information from the Web: 13 million people visit its sites each month. A newly launched service called My Owner Center lets car owners set up accounts and receive service reminders and tailored information.

To keep customers coming back, GM has improved its dependability on delivery, hitting its promised delivery dates 90% of the time--a figure that GM wants higher. That constant push for more is a way of life for GM's IT executives.

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