Building Warships With ‘On Demand’ Supply Chains

In a win for Big Blue’s “on-demand” strategy, General Dynamics’ Electric Boat shipbuilding division has awarded IBM a multi-year contract to provide what is called the shipbuilding industry’s first Internet-based supply chain network.

IBM is expected to provide on-demand computing infrastructure to help Electric Boat automate its supply chain by linking up partners, suppliers and other shipyards on a single, integrated platform.

The idea is to help Electric Boat build warships faster by integrating its suppliers in an integrated Web-based network.

Financial terms were not released. The contract announcement arrives as IBM launches a new advertising campaign to raise awareness of its on-demand strategy of offering utility-like business computing services to enterprise clients.

As outlined in a speech last October by IBM’s CEO Sam Palmisano, Big Blue’s on-demand computing services includes offering data center services like a utility, and basing those services on open standards that underpin integrated systems imbued with self-healing (autonomic) capabilities.

The term on-demand includes integration of legacy applications via middleware, deploying open standards that let different platforms “speak” to one another, and using autonomic (self-diagnostic) hardware as part of piping in computing capacity enterprise customers can use to scale up and down, depending on fluctuating IT needs.

Among the industries seen as ripe for integrating more IP protocols into their supply chain processes is shipbuilding, which experts say to a large extent still relies on paper-based ordering for supplies.

The contract with General Dynamics calls for IBM to host and manage a turnkey supply chain network for Electric Boat, which includes using secure Web portals where business partners can trade supply information.

In this case, Electric Boat is expected to pay a monthly usage fee for IBM’s hosting services, based on the number of registered users, suppliers and business processes deployed on certain shipbuilding contracts.

IBM has dubbed the hosting services SPARS (Shipbuilding Partners and Suppliers) On Demand, which focuses on building IT architecture based on open standards that help customers quickly add more users and business processes, regardless of their computing platform.

IBM said the agreement with Electric Boat is the first commercial result of its work with the National Shipbuilding Research Program (NSRP), a collaboration of 11 U.S. shipyards working to reduce the cost of warships they build for the U.S. Navy.

Big Blue has been a long-time provider of IT products to the U.S shipbuilding industry, and is active in NSRP projects. NSRP is sponsored by the Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command.

The goal of the group is to apply new technology in order to improve shipbuilding efficiency and improve collaboration and information exchange among shipbuilders and their suppliers.

IBM’s SPARS On Demand service will be using IBM’s Websphere middleware, DB2 database and Tivoli Security Management software, which will run on IBM’s eServer x series in a hosted environment.

Shipyards subscribing to the IBM SPARS service will receive all required installation, operations, systems administration, maintenance and support as well as security, supplier registration and document management, IBM said. Plus, it is throwing in a host of secure connectivity options and integration services for legacy systems.