Although Eclipse Aviation Corp., in Albuquerque, N.M., won't be delivering any of its low-cost twin-engine jets...
to customers until 2006, business has been brisk already. The company has booked about $1 billion dollars in orders since 2001.
The fledgling company is working diligently to meet its first delivery date and the IT staff has been trying to keep pace, expanding on its existing SAP architecture by adding applications as new business processes arise, said Dennis Hanke, director of application development at Eclipse. The company's latest upgrade from SAP 4.6C to SAP Enterprise went live June 1. The company added the SAP Discrete Industry Aerospace module to the mix, a functionality that will be used by the company's mechanics.
While engineers prepare to roll out the final design of Eclipse jet aircraft for approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Hanke said the company is forced to build upon its existing IT infrastructure. Eclipse is selling its jet aircraft for under $1 million, aiming at customers needing aircraft for air taxi commuter runs and private use.
"We started out by layering in a fully integrated ERP [enterprise resource planning] infrastructure and we didn't want to change that infrastructure as the business grew," Hanke said. "SAP was selected based upon its functionality, and we could put in a standard configuration and make it work."
Hanke said the process of upgrading to Enterprise went smoothly, mainly because the company is small enough to make a complete copy of the existing production system as a backup before going live. Having a separate landscape to perform the update allowed the implementation team to work out bugs and configuration issues before going live, Hanke said.
"Our goal was to get the upgrade done within a 48-hour window even though we had over 72 hours to do it, and we made that [goal]," Hanke said. "The key was practicing because the Discrete Industry solution had a ton of notes that had to be done by hand."
So far the IT staff has been successful, adhering to its goal of making upgrades without modifying SAP's core code, Hanke said. Eclipse avoids customizing applications to simplify upgrades and other implementations.
"We are integrating far too many products and trying to keep up with SAP's release cycles to allow modifications of existing SAP core programming," Hanke said. "Our concept is that if the modules do 80% of what we need them to do, then the application gets applied."
In addition to SAP Enterprise, Eclipse uses SAP Web Application Server and Collaboration Folders to collaborate with vendors in online meetings. The company is also exchanging drawings and changes to aircraft designs electronically to vendors and the FAA, thereby improving efficiencies, Hanke said.
Eclipse is following many of the best practices used by companies upgrading to SAP Enterprise, said Michael Dominy, a senior analyst on business applications and commerce with Boston-based Yankee Group. Changing the underlying code could cause frustration when a company upgrades in the future, Dominy said.
"Some enterprises with unique billing and payment processes put on a best-of-breed bolt on application, but they don't change the underlying code," Dominy said. "Any company that has implemented SAP over the past 10 years knows not to alter the underlying code because SAP has a lot of flexibility already configured into it."
The next step for Eclipse is to build a customer facing portal to give customers instant access to product, account, flight, maintenance and service information, Hanke said. The company also plans to implement a real-time connection to key vendors to improve its supply chain management processes.
"As a startup we're working hard to keep ahead of the needs of the functional groups," Hanke said. "Many companies are attempting to use their ERP systems to pull efficiency into processes. Here we have to design the process and solidify the process and put technology behind them, so we're a bit different."