Driving Supply-Chain Performance At GM

Oct 30, 2002

Esther Shein

Cherri Musser is the Process Information Officer of Supply Chain and OnStar at Detroit-based General Motors Co. She is responsible for providing information technology applications for all Supply Chain and B2C Applications worldwide. Supply Chain includes purchasing, production control and logistics, order management, as well as business to business e-commerce. B2C includes all customer-facing Internet, mobile commerce and OnStar applications.

Before coming to GM in 1996 Musser spent 20 years at Texas Instruments, where she served as vice president of worldwide research and development in TI's Software Division. Previously, Musser was Director of TI's Enterprise Solution Division where she managed the Applications Software Strategic Business Unit. Musser earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and computer science from Mississippi State University in 1973, and received a master's degree in business administration from Southern Methodist University in 1986.

Q: What have been some of the greatest challenges moving to a Web-enabled supply chain?

The biggest challenge has been the business process change that has been required in order to effectively use the Internet. The other challenge we have at GM is getting global common processes so we can quickly apply technology and use it across the globe. I'll give you an example in the Web space. Our shopping and buying Web sites had to be very different to address 40 different countries. We wanted to be able to put in one infrastructure and one set of technology and give different content and views and make sure we understood the local laws as we did this, so we had teams of people that worked with the business units and IT groups...[to design] a user experience and content. Underneath that were some reusable components we could use across the company. When you configure a vehicle it's basically the same engine but the data is different and so we found tools...and we let the country define how they wanted to navigate through [the GM site] and we have tools that allow them to do that very easily and that could service them very easily. Over two years we deployed one common site...through a combination of technology and the process of isolating what was important to our business partners...You have to look at the business processes and determine how much central control and regional control is needed and [we wanted to] make sure we have underlying infrastructure that supports that.

Q: What's your view on the implementation of new technologies and bleeding edge versus a more conservative approach?

We pushed the edge on the Buypower application I talked about because we aggressively went to J2EE [Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition]...we felt that was the only way we could meet the requirements of central and distributed, because we really needed to move quickly and we needed the ability to be central but distributed, so it was a perfect match for us. When I go into more mission critical areas I'm more conservative. I'm responsible for systems that take orders and transfer them into our assembly plant. If it's not done right, it could shut the plant down. I have to make sure when I introduce something into a mission critical environment it has to work every time. I'm always looking for ways to apply new technology, but I have to say, "How aggressive can I be?" and it depends on what business process I'm supporting, and where you could afford some glitches. Initially in the Web space you were a little more tolerant of what's going on versus if you were scheduling a factory.

Q: What are some of the enhancements you've been working on this year for the supply chain?

Supply Power is [the name of] our portal for our supply base. All communications with suppliers go through that portal. They [suppliers] get their score cards from GM...all purchase power with suppliers goes through that portal: purchase orders, requests for quotes. It's very much Web-enabled there. What we've tried to do is selectively take areas in the business process and redefine how work gets done and improve communication and those are the ones we've Web-enabled first. So for internal processing on the supply chain we have an employee portal for communication. All of the new applications I do in the purchasing space and material space when it has to do with communication, goes through the supplier portal.

One of the more significant areas we're working on is an area called Demand Sensing. That's where we're taking inputs from the clickstream data we get from Buypower and brand Web sites and we are taking inventory levels from the fields -- the vehicles. We look at sales patterns and determine what the popular configurations of vehicles will be. We're in the process of deploying that. Then our dealers and the field sales organization can do a better job of determining what to order if there's not a firm customer order behind it. What we found is there is a high correlation between what people configure on the Web site and what becomes the popular configuration that is sold. There is a very high correlation so that's why we decided to take that clickstream data and other data and come up with a list of suggested configurations. That's still in pilot mode. It probably will be deployed in the December timeframe. It will be phased in eventually to all 14,000 to 15,000 dealers globally.

Q: Can you point to any examples of how the supply chain has saved the company money through better efficiencies in 2002?

There are a couple of areas we really focused on this year -- one was reducing inventory levels of the material in the plants before product is built and I know we've got some significant savings. We have reduced our logistics costs significantly and we've improved our overall reliability of product to dealers. We're also getting a much higher percentage of on-time delivery. On the inventory levels, we worked specifically with the plants and have a program where we looked at buffers [a term related to holding inventory components in stock because the supplier may not get them to you] and we determined what buffers we really needed to keep...and a combination of analysis around buffers and driving the cycle time out has really required us [to save money].

On the logistics side, we partnered with a company [whose] entire focus was to reduce our logistics costs inbound and outbound globally. It required some's a very big success story.

On-time delivery is another area. We really got to improve because of our ability to predict when we'd get product to a dealer and we've made incremental improvements in our order management systems so we have more visibility to what we said we could do and how did we perform against that commitment.

Q: What else is occupying the bulk of your attention these days?

We have initiatives around direct selling in Brazil so we've been enhancing our Web site to support a direct selling model there. That means through the Internet you actually sell a vehicle and you have delivery through the dealership. We've made a major overhaul to the a significant amount of vehicles will be sold through a direct selling model. That's one of our bigger markets. We're a Covisant user as an ASP model for the purchasing space. So we're in the process of working with them for requests for quotes as a capability they'll be supporting. We have smaller initiatives with them as well around catalog procurement. I've got a couple of data warehousing projects, one in the purchasing space and one in the order fulfillment space that we're working on and I'm championing trying to get inside of GM more of a factory concept for how we deliver software -- meaning standard work practices. We're adopting the capability maturity model (CMM) and getting that deployed both through GM and...our IT suppliers, because you get a higher level of quality through your delivered solution and a shorter delivery time and a lower cost.

Q: Who do you report to and how large is your staff?

I report to Ralph Szygenda, GM Group VP, Chief Information Officer. I have 16 direct reports and a total of approximately 300 GMers in my organization.

Q: Which of your skills has served you best in managing IT?

I would say relationship management. I have to form a partnership with my business customers in order to effect change and have technology enabled to change. GM is very matrixed so I have to have relationships with my peers. Nothing stands alone. From a business process standpoint I'm generally in someone else's space and third, the people who work for me, it's important that they see the vision and have a passion around what we do and a lot of that is [based on] the relationship I have with them. A big point I've found is if you get people working together then the impossible can get done. It also doesn't hurt to have some technology skills as well.

Q: What is your proudest professional achievement?

As CIO Of GM Europe, I was able to do a "turn-around" in four months. I established a good working relationship with the business, built an IT team who changed from skeptical about what could be done to excited about the possibilities. I filled several key IT positions and reduced operating costs to acceptable levels.

Q: What keeps you awake at night?

Getting better at project delivery to the GM businesses -- cheaper, better, faster.

Q. What do you do in your spare time?

Read, both fun and work-related books. The latest books I have read are "Fish! Tales: Real-Life Stories to Help You Transform Your Workplace and Your Life"; "First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently"; and "Last Man Standing." I also enjoy traveling to visit friends and family and I like to take long walks with my dog.

Know any CIOs or CTOs who might be good subjects for a CIN interview? If so, contact Esther Shein at


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