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Delta revamps supply chain software plan

Delta Air Lines has postponed one leg of a major supply chain software roll-out involving applications from SAP and Xelus. But said the project will be completed in December and followed by the installation of two add-on applications.

The Atlanta-based airline's maintenance and repair unit initially planned to go live with three of SAP's software modules in April as part of an effort to reduce inventory costs and improve its handling of spare parts.

Instead, Delta delayed the SAP deployment and went ahead with the installation of a specialised spare-parts management application from Xelus.

However, that required Delta to integrate the Xelus tool with the mainframe-based homegrown materials management system that is eventually, supposed to be replaced by SAP's software, said Walter Taylor, managing director of maintenance, repair and overhaul technology at Delta.

The Xelus application, which runs on an HP-UX server and an Oracle database, manages Delta's most expensive aircraft components, such as engines. Taylor said the business case for that part of the project was compelling, although he did not disclose any details about what Delta is spending or the return on investment it expects.

In addition, Delta stated, "the value of getting users acclimated to the system was well worth the expense" of developing an interface between the Xelus software and the materials management system.

Delta "called a time-out" on the SAP applications in order to hold the line on IT spending, Taylor said. But the airline is not backing away from the supply chain project and now plans by year's end to flip the switch on SAP's warehouse and materials management applications and its environmental health and safety module, he added. Those applications and Xelus' software will also be connected to Delta's SAP-based finance systems at that time.

Karen Peterson, an analyst at Gartner, said the Xelus software promised the fastest ROI to Delta, an alluring prospect given the downturn in the airline industry following the terrorist attacks in the US.

Delta is also in the midst of two other parts of the project, Taylor said. One involves replacing its homegrown configuration management system, which keeps records of the most important parts used in planes, with a packaged application that will store data about every part and send alerts to repair workers when components need to be replaced.

Delta is developing a prototype configuration management system with Mxi Technologies but has yet to settle on a vendor for the technology, Taylor said, adding that it is looking to roll out an application as early as next year.

Delta is also working on a system that presents technical documentation about parts in an electronic format that's accessible over the Web, Taylor said. At present, Delta distributes CD-ROMs to repair workers. That initiative should be finished within two years.

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