Jeppesen addresses snags with delivery of e-charts

 - September 22, 2010, 8:13 AM

Jeppesen leadership is addressing problems the company experienced in July in meeting customer requests for timely delivery of charts. The problems stem from a recent switch to a new Oracle enterprise resource planning (ERP) system used for processing orders. The new system was needed because the previous ­Oracle ERP software couldn't keep up with the rapid influx of new products and services that Jeppesen has added during the past two years, including delivery of more electronic products, according to Jeppesen president and CEO Mark Van Tine.

"We have 500 fantastic people who are going through a gigantic learning curve," Van Tine said, transitioning to the new ERP system and working out the bugs that inevitably crop up in any complex software implementation. Part of the problem is that Jeppesen is trying not to over-customize the ERP system, which should make future ­upgrades simpler. "The last time we did this–and a lot of our customers will remember this–in 2003, we about lost the business," he said. "We did a really poor job of implementing the system that we just replaced [in 2003], in preparing our users, and we over-customized the system." 

Flood of Customer-service Requests

In this most recent system ­upgrade, customers complained of ordering charts for international trips and having to make last-minute calls to Jeppesen customer service to try to get charts overnighted so they could fly the trip. At the same time, they reported many problems reaching customer service personnel. The late delivery problem started around July 4, Van Tine said. "There were some things that got out the door late," he acknowledged. "We did everything we could to keep this as transparent to the customers as possible."

At the height of the problems in July, Jeppesen employees stood at the ready to interface with order takers and software developers to solve customer problems. If an order taker had a problem, he or she would raise a flag and a helper would move in to assist. By the end of July, Van Tine said, there were far fewer flags flying. Nothing took more than one-and-a-half days to resolve, he said, and most problems were taken care of in four hours or fewer. 

Jeppesen is spending $35 million on the new ERP system, and once all the bugs are worked out, it will help the company deliver better service, Van Tine asserted. The system will also help Jeppesen ­deliver more customized ­products, especially as more of the offerings come in electronic versions. 

Ten years ago, Jeppesen printed 2.5 billion paper charts per year, and that number will drop to one billion this year. The transition to electronic products hasn't gone as fast as was ­expected, he said. "We'd like to take ­paper ­completely out, but the cockpits aren't ready, our customers aren't ready and the regulators are not ready."

Jeppesen has formed a committee to examine how to make data a commodity and what that means for a company built on the sale of data. "There are a lot of forces out there that want to commoditize the data," he said. Should Jeppesen consider ­offering a basic and free en route and IFR approach plate product to compete with the U.S. government's free charting products, then sell additional features? That is one of the questions the committee is exploring.