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Marshall still the best

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The world's best Net marketer has a new task for you, if you're serious about the field and if your computer systems are up to it.

If you've already made the Web the window into all your computing assets, connecting internal and external areas, you're ready to take the next step, says Marshall Industries President-CEO Robert Rodin.

But this time, bring a hammer.

Integrate departments

Companies should tear down the walls separating finance, human resources, computing and operations, Mr. Rodin says. They're artifacts of an earlier age.

Today's company should act as one team with one mission.

"You can't tell where one department begins and ends. It's integrated," he says. "That's how the world is today."

Likewise, the Internet and the computing systems behind it should not be viewed in isolation.

"One fallacy in the Internet world is the Internet customer is otherwise calling inside sales," Mr. Rodin says. "A customer may use the Internet for convenience, then they may want to negotiate with a person, go back through an intranet for customer service, then go back to people. You're never all one or the other."

With Marshall, an El Monte, Calif.-based electronics wholesaler to manufacturers, "engineers can get printed data sheets and send us an e-mail," Mr. Rodin says. "They may order on the Internet and we may service the order with some other order replenishment system. It's a much more natural flow."

He came to this realization in 1992, when his own plan for Marshall started through a reinvention of the company. At that time it was a $570 million-a-year distributor of electronic parts whose salesmen worked on commission and whose computer systems worked separately.

On a mission

What's the new mission statement? "We are, as a company, a junction box among more than 100 suppliers, 250,000 part numbers and 65,000 customers," Mr. Rodin says. "Everything is a system integration mandate."

What do customers want? "They want everything free, perfect and now," he says. "We're always thinking someone will ask us for something better, faster, cheaper, forever."

Kerry Young, Mr. Rodin's VP-information technology, is charged with delivering all this. But he doesn't spend his days at a terminal. He goes on sales calls to hear firsthand what customers need.

"We talk to many different customers, and use our experience as well as that of our technology users and Internet users, to build solutions in a way that we're meeting our customers' requirements," Mr. Young says.

Most of Marshall's systems connect to any customer, whether via mainframes and expensive SAP accounting software, a hand-cranked cash register or anything in between.

Since Marshall Industries' first appearance as No. 1 in the NetMarketing 200, last year, Mr. Rodin, Mr. Young and staff, including 130 people in information technology, have been busy adding new capabilities to their systems:

  • Marshall's Education, News and Entertainment Network, based in San Diego, was spun out from the parent company.

  • ENEN has conducted more than 1,000 of its training seminars, or NetSeminars, for more than 10,000 paying customers.

  • CMP Media signed a deal to handle its own "Webcasts" through ENEN.

  • In May, Marshall announced an agreement with Comit Systems to provide custom design services for original-equipment manufacturing customers in North America.

  • In June, Marshall announced an agreement with OrCAD Inc. to offer real-time integration of its parts and pricing data with OrCAD's electronic design software.

    Pushing ahead

    If you think Mr. Rodin and Mr. Young are resting on their laurels, think again.

    Mr. Rodin is working on a system called Macro to coordinate supply chains worldwide. Mr. Young has also developed database management tools to deliver visual alerts of problems in corporate performance, reporting problems to management in real time.

    What's it all mean? "We're talking about the Web cannibalizing work, and people moving to higher orders of managing the network," Mr. Rodin says. Every routine task should be automated, and humans should do only what they're best at.

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