by Charlie Feld and Jonathan Mitchell

Designed for Growth

Dec 16, 2009
IT Strategy

Rolls-Royce needed technology to support global expansion. But new business processes had to come first.

Rapid growth and the need to scale its operations to serve a global customer base led Rolls-Royce to transform how it engineers, manufactures and delivers power systems to civil and defense aerospace, marine and energy industry customers.

Traditionally, individual sites specialized in specific engine types. However, as Rolls-Royce grew and became more global, company leaders found they needed more flexibility. In 2004, the company embarked on a major change program, which continues today, to standardize engineering processes and deploy a common set of technology tools.

But this wasn’t an IT project. Most of the effort went into designing, developing and testing new product life cycle and data management processes. More than 400 engineers were involved, dwarfing the 100-strong IT team assigned to the effort. Although technology is critical to delivering the changes, the company’s decision to put business processes first was the differentiator between this and other IT initiatives.

Read additional columns by Charlie Feld:

Creating a Balanced IT Portfolio

How Customer Focused Tech Keeps Airline’s Revenue Aloft

How the United Kingdom Delivers Customer-Centric Government Services

How Agile Development and Virtual Teams Help the Fed Set the Economy’s Course

Global Integration

Today Rolls-Royce counts £57.5 billion (about $94 billion) in orders, 40 percent of which come from Asia and the Middle East. The company needed systems and processes in place to deliver consistent, high-quality service anywhere in the world. Furthermore, it needed to be able to attract top engineering and manufacturing talent around the globe.

Rolls-Royce did not, however, want only to grow the top line. It wanted to increase speed to market and improve productivity. The company applied its philosophy of “invent once, use many times” in its approach to engineering design processes and systems.

In practice, this approach means that the same Trent family of engines which powers the Boeing 777 can be used in other applications. For example, a marine derivative of this engine powers warships for Western navies. An industrial version is used to generate electrical power. To execute this approach requires fully integrated global engineering, manufacturing and supply chain processes and systems.

Rolls-Royce changed its design and product data management processes. Now it’s tackling configuration management and standardizing manufacturing instructions. For the first time last year, engineers in North America, Europe and Asia could all work together on shared design models using common processes. This year, Rolls-Royce has configured its product life cycle management (PLM) system to support data sharing and control—not just internally, but with its joint venture partners.

The IT-Business Connection

To enable these changes, Rolls-Royce is deploying globally PLM design and manufacturing systems with workflow and data management capabilities necessary to execute the new processes. For example, the company can define configuration management processes within its PLM system that will ensure that the right data flows between it and the manufacturing systems.

The new applications and processes require a four-tier architecture, which Rolls-Royce was among the first companies to deploy on this global scale. Fine-tuning system performance necessitated a network upgrade and forced more discipline upon product engineers to create models that organize data efficiently. The company also had to change the way it manages access to ensure data—some of which is restricted by export control requirements—is shared appropriately.

These processes and systems were core to the global engineering of Rolls-Royce’s new Trent 1000 engine, which will be powering the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. The company now has a global design environment, enabling it to develop new engines faster than ever.

A member of the CIO Hall of Fame, Charlie Feld retired from HP in 2008. Jonathan Mitchell is director of corporate development, and former CIO and director of business process improvement with Rolls-Royce.