When Ford set out to create its new supplier network, the project was seeded in the fertile ground of Ford's 'Web Farm.'
The subject of a 1997 Harvard Business School case study, the Web Farm already had selected computer hardware, software and security for future Internet projects. That freed up Ford's World Wide Web Organization to focus on applications such as the Ford Supplier Network.
In February, 12 staffers began to float concepts for the network, and a month later, the team consulted suppliers that would use it. By June, the team had completed a working version of the Web-based network; by the end of the month, 16,000 users were online.
Development was rapid because the team was spared the burden of selecting hardware. The Web Farm already had taken care of that.
'We have a Web infrastructure,' said Alan Berry, the Ford Supplier Network's supervisor for quality and process leadership. 'The Web Farm is an (Internet service provider) for supporting Web applications.'
Ford already supports more than 550 Internet domain names, the major addresses Web users seek out. The company's Internet muscle didn't hurt, either, in getting prompt attention for the project.
'This was a big enough priority that I could get on a plane and fly to California as I needed,' Berry said.
He and other team members visited with developers on the cutting edge of Web technology to get outside support for the developing network.
'Ford is a big company,' Berry said. 'When we're interested in something, they pay attention. The chairman of Netscape came down to talk with us.'