The price is right

Arrow Electronics transforms its product pricing and availability information system

Arrow Electronics has a vision: create a model for supply-chain collaboration that suppliers and customers can use to exchange product, pricing, and transaction information in real time.

The distributor of electronic components has $7 billion in revenue and 11,500 employees. To improve service to customers, it rallied with supply-chain partners to collaborate on a RosettaNet PIP (Partner Interface Process) for product pricing information. This year Arrow successfully rolled out the resulting standard-price inquiry model to its subsidiaries, and next year it plans to extend the system to its suppliers.

“A customer comes and says they’re looking for this product,” explains Pamela D. Webber, Arrow’s senior manager of e-commerce application development. “We need the ability to look very quickly, not only in our own organization but through our suppliers for pricing and availability.” Arrow developed a Web services model that enables real-time searches across diverse supplier databases -- which include tens of millions of parts -- for price, availability, quantities, and delivery times.

The system eliminates the need for the sales force to make time-consuming calls, faxes, or online checks for price and availability. It also allows the sales rep to complete the transaction, ship the order, and send the invoice, all on the same call. The functionality is embedded in Arrow’s main sales application and in several other Arrows systems around the world.

Key challenges in building the system included replacing legacy technology (the hard-wired LU6.2 protocol) with the more flexible SOAP and XML-based RosettaNet model, and keeping end-to-end response time to less than 30 seconds for a query that might pass through several processing tiers across several organizations. As part of the system, Arrow used software technologies from IBM (MQSeries), Oracle, BEA (WebLogic), and webMethods, in addition to a highly parallel search technology from Endeca Technologies and hardware from Sun Microsystems.

Bernadette Zaccor, Arrow’s manager of global support services, says the system has helped customers maintain inventory. “It enables us to get the whole process completed from A to Z in a very short amount of time.”