By Elizabeth U. Harding

This is a story about an IS team effort that resulted in a mission-critical application. It was custom developed within 15 months and implemented as fast or faster than packaged software.

When Kent Electronics Corp, Sugar Land, TX, a leading specialty distributor of electronic products, needed to update its distribution software, the IS team began looking for a software package.

“After looking at various packages, we concluded that even on a good day, any of these would take us back a number of years from a functional standpoint,” says Frank Billone, executive vice president and CIO. “Because of the extensive modifications we would have had to make to keep the software package on par with the present system, we quickly figured out that it would cost us no more money to have a custom application than to use a software package. Moreover, when you make extensive changes too often, you lose the value of retaining a software package.”
This article originally appeared in the September issue of Wiesner Publishing’s Software Magazine and appears on TechRepublic under a special arrangement with the publisher.
Kent Electronics contracted Infosys Technologies Ltd., Fremont, CA, to build “Discovery,” their distribution software that ties into their J.D. Edwards ERP system running on an AS/400 computer. Infosys is a Bangalore, India-based company that provides custom development services.

Billone insisted on a fixed-price contract for several reasons. First, he says, it forces developers to fully document everything before they begin, and second, it enforces a very highly visible change order process.

“Every change costs money,” says Billone. “With a change order process, the cost of every change is known and is evaluated based on its merits.”

Since time was of the essence, Billone put incentives into the fixed-price contract. “If they deliver early, I pay more,” says Billone. “If they are late, I subtract money. Since money is at risk based on an early or late date, everybody is focused on the due date.”

Billone says that he learned how to work with offshore companies years ago when he was with another company. “You have to form a global team,” he explains. “Our people worked really hard to establish that.”

Besides Billone, who headed the effort, the Kent Electronics IS team was made up of John Moren, manager of application development of distribution systems; Rick Cassani, manager of client services; and Ken Tong, manager of corporate systems and the principal architect of the legacy system that was replaced. The IS team made several trips to India because a global project requires work to be done where it makes sense, Billone says. At peak development times, Infosys put as many as 100 developers on the project.

“Infosys not only has many good people working for them, but they also have excellent technology called Entark,” says Billone.

Infosys’ Entark is a service-based architecture, with the middleware taking care of all the interfaces to other systems.

According to Billone, the application was developed within 15 months and went live in April 1998. “We met all of our goals on time, on budget, with sub-second response time. Discovery is a stable application which has not required the traditional ‘tuning’ cycle,” says Billone, who attributes this to a good test plan methodology and aggressive stress testing before Kent Electronics went live.

Billone joined Kent in 1996. Since then, he and his team have virtually changed out all applications and hardware to gain technology leadership for the company’s four businesses that IS supports. “The teamwork established with Infosys continues today, with Infosys now working collaboratively to support the application we built together,” says Billone.
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