A Neanderthal Industry Smartens Up

How the electrical-parts biz got the glitches out

John E. Haluska is a bear of a man whose gray beard makes him look more like Santa Claus than an Internet visionary. But three years ago, while the chief information officer for $2.2 billion electrical-parts maker Thomas & Betts Corp. was visiting a distributor, he passed the accounts payable office and noticed a large stack of documents with his company's name on them. When he asked about the papers, he was told: "It's T&B day." On such days, eight hours are spent crawling through the paperwork, addressing snafus between the distributor and Thomas & Betts--missed shipment dates, damaged goods, and, mostly, price discrepancies. Haluska estimates that it costs his company about $300 to straighten out each gnarly inconsistency. After learning others had the same nasty problem, "That got me thinking," he says.

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