How To Maintain A Quality Standard
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SIVAC, a division of Pioneer-Standard Electronics uses ISO certification as a basis for its quality control. SIVAC's customers know exactly what standards will be met before they decide to do business.
The goal of any VAR or systems integrator is to run a successful business by meeting and exceeding the needs of its customers. System Integration Value-Added Center (SIVAC), a division of Pioneer-Standard Electronics, works with an average of 500 customers a month, selling them 3,000 and 4,000 products. Ed Simsic, SIVAC director, says "customers don't perceive quality as an added value. They expect it."
SIVAC (Solon, OH) provides systems integration and related functions such as software load/setup, system testing, burn-in and expansion of cabinet integration. All are supported by a broad line of system products. The 10-year-old division fluctuates between 100 and 130 employees, depending on workload.
ISO Gives A Solid Base Of Growth
A large amount of the division's success, according to Simsic, comes through meeting ISO standards (See ISO sidebar). SIVAC is in the business of solving problems and saving time and manpower through systems integration at companies like Bell & Howell and Network Associates (N.A.). SIVAC follows quality assurance standards like ISO 9002, IBM's Authorized Assembler Program (AAP) and Digital's Certified Integrated Partner (CIP).
"ISO 9002 certification has allowed for a solid base of growth for SIVAC," Simsic explains. Simsic started as a production manager at SIVAC and worked on the business development side as well as the service management side.
SIVAC is the first company to be certified with IBM through its Authorized Assembler Program and Digital through its Certified Integrated Partner Program. "The companies were looking for partners to go out and integrate for them," explains Simsic. "Digital and IBM audit us once a year and certify all of our procedures and make sure we conform to their requirements."
Several different departments exist inside SIVAC. These departments include customer service, purchasing, engineering, quality control, manufacturing and warehousing. "We want our customers to realize there is a group of people formed to manage their account," says Simsic. "Our focus is to act as a part of their team. We break these customers down into make-to-order customers or make-to-stock customers."
Solving Problems Through A Precise Process
"If you build what you think customers want, you will fail," says Simsic. "You have to be able to respond in their real time. SIVAC has a process to ensure quality control from the moment the company begins a relationship with a customer."
- Invite the customer to SIVAC. Simsic and SIVAC consider account specialists, who are assigned to each customer, as the focal point that coordinates with the branch to manage customer requirements. "We manage the customer's account from materials management and inventory management to anything involved all the way through to shipping the product out the door." Customers have the option to meet the specific SIVAC employees they will work with. Next, they are taken through the plant to get a feel for the environment and to see how their product will be integrated.
- Produce a statement of work with the customer. SIVAC creates a statement of work (SOW), which is a step-by-step verification process that follows exactly what the customer wants. "The SOW is a written way for the customers to indicate how the product should be put together. They may want a particular part in a slot, software set up with different notes and different codes or a particular ribbon cable circulated in a different format," explains Simsic. "When customers walk away from a product verification test (PVT), we know exactly what they are looking for. Essentially, they are signing that document saying, ‘This is how I want you to build this solution.'"
Continue sales after the contract is signed. SIVAC offers a dead-on-arrival (DOA) program. "We offer a 30-day program," says Simsic. "If there is something wrong with the system, we automatically replace it at no charge."
Customers Can Audit At Any Time
In an effort to keep quality control at a high level, SIVAC implemented a problem/resolution reporting system. "Our customers can come in at any time and audit us," he explains. Without warning, the customer can go to SIVAC and look at any aspect of production. "We have a group of SIVAC representatives that meets weekly who sit down and review any problems. Their job is to find the root of the problem. When they meet, they identify what happened, how it happened and possibly change the process. The problem is then brought to the branch/customer's attention. This gives our employees a chance to review our measurements – where we are and where we need to go.
Solving Problems By Working Proactively
"Just because we have ISO certification doesn't mean we don't constantly review our quality standards," says Simsic. "Our present quality measurement on customer orders is at 99.7%. The only way we reached this percentage is by evaluating where each project is, and constantly establishing alternatives to the guidelines we are following. The marketplace is always changing. What we're doing today may not be what we're doing in six months."
In a recent integration with a communications company with $61 million in sales last year, SIVAC teamed up with the company to help implement a new software revision. "We were building platforms (installing computer cards and software) into 500 units for the company in a one-month period," Simsic explains. "One of our engineers found a mistake in the software. Now we are not shipping out the systems, and have lost revenue this month. But, we have gained in our relationship with the customer. If the software had made it out into the field, the company could have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and could have lost customers. That's a partnership."
Map Out The Future
Simsic attributes part of SIVAC's success to careful strategic planning. "There are so many VARs out there right now," he explains. "A problem VARs run into is not sitting down and figuring out strategically where they want to go. They need to determine their core competency and how to sell it."
As for SIVAC's future, the company will move from its current plant in Solon, OH, to a 223,000 square-foot building in the same area in early 1999. The plant will be fully automated. Employees will have stations, where parts will come to them on conveyor belts. "With this system," says Simsic, "we'll turn out 15,000 to 16,000 various products a month instead of 3,000 to 4,000 products a month."