March 6, 2007

Warranty Institute:

A year after his call for the formation of a warranty industry association, HP's Glen Griffiths plans to announce the official launch of the Institute of Warranty Chain Management next week in Tampa.

As some 275 or so warranty professionals and 15 exhibitors get ready to head to Tampa next week for the third annual Warranty Chain Management Conference, one of the topics likely to be on their minds is what comes next. Does the show simply continue to get bigger, until it moves into some convention center near a Disney theme park? Or does it become the annual meeting for a much more active and year-round organization?

Glen Griffiths, the director of global engineering services at Hewlett-Packard Co. and one of the small circle of believers who years ago thought there was an appetite for a warranty-themed trade show, stood up and asked some of these questions last year in Las Vegas. In regards to a suggestion made to form an industry association of some kind, the choices he listed were to 1) do nothing, 2) say good idea, let someone else do something, or 3) say good idea, we should do something.

Well, a year has passed, and something has indeed been done. After the Automotive Industry Action Group panel on Thursday morning, Griffiths is slotted to update attendees on some association-forming activities that have occurred since his call to action a year ago. And he returns with a new title to append to his name: president of the Institute of Warranty Chain Management, or the iWCM for short, with a nod towards Apple Inc. for inventing the world of lower-case i-words.

Some will be surprised it's taken a whole year to form an industry organization, while others will be amazed it took only a year to get it going. But what's truly amazing is that the people who helped make it happen found the time to do so. As the old saying goes, if you want something done, find someone who's too busy to do it.

In advance of his speech, Griffiths briefed Warranty Week about some of the bullet points he'll discuss next week. "The charter is established, and we're incorporated as a non-profit," he said. Right now, they're going through the formalities of registering that non-profit status with California's state government, which in the post-9/11 world of regulations is required before they can open a bank account.

"We've delayed going out to sponsors and asking for money, because we haven't had a bank account to handle the money once it comes in," he noted. But that problem should be solved within a matter of weeks if not days, he added. And he even secured a $750 donation to pay the filing fee, so the organization wouldn't begin its life in debt, either figuratively or literally.

Member Services First, Then Members

After there's a bank account and sponsorship money begins arriving, the plan is to open up the institute to individual and corporate memberships. But first things first: the bank account leads to the solicitation of founding corporate sponsorships, which funds the addition of infrastructure to support member services, and which therefore makes membership attractive. Only then will the iWCM begin to accept actual membership applications. However, one can get onto the waiting list by sending an email to inquiries@iwcm.org

An initial board of directors and slate of officers has been chosen, with Glen Griffiths as president and Education & Certification Committee chair; Marianne Grant of Snap-on Business Solutions as vice president and Membership & Finance Committee chair; Greg Spraker of SAS Institute as treasurer and Legislation & Public Policy Committee chair; Thomas Bellinger of IBM as secretary and Resource & Research Committee chair; and Kjell Hammarstrom of Sun Microsystems as Communication & Networking Committee chair.

"I see the iWCM as my night job," Griffiths said. He's actually increased his job responsibilities within HP during the past year, so his days will remain plenty busy. But he will make it a priority to find time for the iWCM. "I've committed to a three-year role," he said. "What I'm hoping to do in the next three years is build the institute up into a sustainable and going concern. And then hopefully we'll hand it over to somebody else to manage. At some stage in the future, we may find that we need a full time or part time president on a paid basis. But I'm doing this on a volunteer basis until we can establish it. And then we'll see what types of permanent employees will be needed."

Meanwhile, Alison Griffiths, his wife, will function as the day-to-day manager, filling a role that most associations would call an executive director. She has served as the conference director for the annual Warranty Chain Management show since planning first began in late 2004, and will once again run this year's event in Tampa.

"I don't quite know what my title will be yet," she said of her iWCM role. The board voted to give her the job, but they didn't actually vote on her job title. "That still has to be determined," she said with a laugh. But she said she has much more important things to look after, such as the installation of a support system capable of signing up hundreds or perhaps even thousands of new members. And then there's the not insignificant job of making sure the annual conference runs smoothly next week.

Soliciting Sponsorships

Glen Griffiths said what he wants to do during his WCM '07 presentation next week is to publicly summarize the activities of the past year and outline the proposed agenda for the next year. And then, somewhat more privately during the balance of the show, he said he wants to recruit a few more board members and solicit a few more corporate sponsorships. So if he begins speaking to you, hold onto your wallet.

"What I'm planning to do in my presentation at the WCM conference is to basically summarize: where we were last year with the call to action, which companies responded and signed up, and what decisions were made," he said.

All year, a charter team comprised of roughly 19 members has met numerous times via conference calls, with smaller groups then breaking off to tackle more specific issues. Bellinger and Hammarstrom drafted most of the bylaws. Grant did most of the work on budgets. HP and SAS took turns facilitating the conference calls. After outlining the progress of these groups, Griffiths said he plans to explain the contents of the actual charter which they drafted, as well as the goals, mission, and vision of the iWCM.

Warranty Professional Certifications

Next, he will outline some of the specific services the institute plans to offer in the near future. A big part of those services will be in the realm of professional training courses and certification programs for warranty professionals, similar to what the an organization called the Project Management Institute now does for project management professionals, he said.

The PMI offers multiple choice exams that can lead to certification as a Project Management Professional (PMP) or a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), among others. The group, which was formed in 1973, has more than 200 chapters worldwide and around 30 special interest groups organized by both industry and topic. It also provides job postings online for project management positions.

"As we discovered as we went through this process, one of the real value-adds that the institute can offer is professional development in the warranty space," Griffiths said. "We talked at length as an organization as to whether we should just do ad hoc training. We felt that overall one thing that's needed in the warranty arena is a career path development."

Griffiths said that at least within Hewlett-Packard, there is a great demand for some kind of certification program that could help the company make hiring decisions. For instance, when HP is hiring project managers, it first looks for a PMP certification as an initial sign that the candidate is qualified.

No acronyms have yet been chosen for warranty management professionals, but several will probably be needed. Griffiths said he foresees at least three levels of warranty professional certification:

  • An introductory level that provides an overview of warranty chain tools, techniques, and processes,
  • An advanced level that delves deeper into each of these areas as well as modeling and analytics, and
  • An expert level that is aimed at specific trades such as data analytics.

He said right now the target date for the launch of these certification courses is the end of 2007. If all goes well, the first certifications should be ready to be awarded at the next WCM Conference in March 2008 (tentatively slotted for somewhere in Southern California). "But I'd like to try and do some before then, and perhaps have some examinations at the WCM," he said. "First we have to get the support in, and then we have to start developing the modules, and hopefully run some early courses towards the late summer."

Griffiths said the offering of services such as these will take precedence over the offering of general memberships. "We want to make sure having a service offering will be conducive to people who want to become members," he said.

Tentative Timetable and Pricing

Therefore, if the corporate sponsorships begin to arrive later this month or perhaps in early April, and if the certification courses launch by August or September, the membership applications should go out soon thereafter. He anticipates offering both individual and corporate memberships, though prices aren't yet announced. Also, members are likely to become eligible for discounted tuition for the certification courses, but again specifics have not yet been finalized.

Marianne Grant, vice president of the iWCM and director of Snap-on Business Solutions, said the tuition fees for the certification courses will probably be finalized within the next 90 days. She anticipates launching at least five course modules this year, and perhaps five more modules next year. "Those courses will be organized into tracks," she said, with some courses aimed at the introductory level and others aimed at the advanced or expert levels. "In the first year, we will determine how that nets out in terms of certification, and what those certifications mean."

As he did at last year's conference, Griffiths said he plans to ask people who attend his presentation to fill out a brief questionnaire consisting of perhaps a dozen items. One of the questions will be what sort of fee structure people think they can support for individual memberships. Should it be $50 a year? A hundred dollars? Or perhaps $125 a year? A consensus is forming around the higher number, though that could change next week. But should there be a discount for students and faculty? That's also yet to be decided.

Corporate memberships are another question. Griffiths said he anticipates some sort of tiered structure for corporate memberships, but much still needs to be determined. Grant said she anticipates having just two levels of corporate membership, for companies with revenues either above or below $1 billion. Each level will entitle the company to a set number of personal memberships.

All consultants, software vendors, newsletter editors, and other small businessmen who are less than billionaires will fall into either the individual or the smaller corporate category. "There's a lot of crossover there," Grant conceded. "We decided to make it simple," she said, with just one individual and two corporate membership levels to choose from. "If somebody is a consultant, and they're working on their own, they can join as an individual. And that's fine. We're not going to say just because you have a company that you have to pay the corporate rate."

Grant said she also thinks it will be several months before the iWCM is ready to begin taking on either individual or corporate members. However, long before then, there will be an opportunity for companies to become what she called "seed sponsors" to the tune of $5,000 each and upwards. Such a commitment would entitle the sponsor to name numerous individual members, and to take advantage of discounted and/or perhaps even free educational opportunities and professional certifications. The exact numbers have yet to be decided, however, and one gets the impression that they'll expand in proportion with the size of the sponsorship gift.

New Structure Announced

On February 5, Griffiths announced that the charter team had completed its tasks, and was therefore going to dissolve itself, to be replaced by a board and committee structure. He thanked all of the participants, and asked for their permission to publicly acknowledge their role during his WCM presentation. He also offered all 19 charter team members complimentary one year memberships in the iWCM, and encouraged them to join the new committees.

"As we established the institute, we definitely tried to make sure it could service many industries," Griffiths said. He noted that the charter team included people from numerous sectors of the warranty community, including manufacturers of computers, appliances, and automobiles, software and tools vendors, professional services and aftermarket logistics companies, and consultants.

"Now that we've dissolved the charter team and actually established the charter, we're going into a committee-based membership where we're going to invite people from different industries to participate in the groups," he added. "But I'll be looking for people who are prepared to commit and participate, and put some time into building up this institute."

More specifically and near term, Griffiths said he needs people willing to put some hours into the development of the certification modules, into the launch of a bimonthly membership newsletter, and into the further development of an iWCM Web site. Perhaps there might even be Webinars or job postings, case studies or benchmarking efforts. "The key thing is to put things in place that are going to support the warranty professional," he said. "We have to sort out our branding, and what sort of logo and image we want to project for the institute.

Interest vs. Participation

"There is a lot of interest," he noted, "but we've also recognized that lots of people are interested but few people are prepared to participate." So if there are topics, special interest groups, or committees to be formed in addition to those already announced, they will first have to demonstrate the existence of a group of volunteers who are willing and able to do some work. "We have to be cognizant of what we can realistically offer, maintain, and support over time."

Thomas Bellinger, the secretary of the iWCM and the warranty strategist for the IBM Systems Group's Technical Support Operations, said he's also committed to serving on the board for at least three years, and perhaps longer if he's re-elected (there's a six-year term limit in the bylaws). He also said he's going to work on bringing IBM in as a sponsor, and hopes others will do the same at their companies. But so far, nothing is certain on that front.

Securing corporate sponsorships is a logical next step, he said. Those funds will become the seed money that's used to finance the launch of the courses, which will lead to professional certifications, and will attract memberships, and perhaps more sponsorships. When prospective members or sponsors inevitably wonder "what's in it for me?" as they contemplate joining, it is hoped that the prospect of certification as a warranty professional will help them decide.

"I think we've done as much as we can do administratively," Bellinger said. "I think the challenge we have now is getting people signed up, to get commitments to be members of this organization. Foremost, I think we need to have some major corporations sponsoring it, or getting involved up front, so we're not dependent on the individual type memberships."

Bellinger said he also values the opportunity to network professionally with his peers in ways that anti-trust laws would otherwise prohibit. Next week for the third year in a row, he'll get a chance to meet with his peers at Sun and GM and Apple and Caterpillar -- people he otherwise might have little or no contact with. Now as he travels from one IBM office to another, he makes a point of taking a detour to visit with some of the people he's met through the WCM. He said it's invaluable to be able to compare notes with a warranty professional in the auto industry, or the appliance industry, or even someone at another computer company.

"Personally, this has been my profession for over 15 years," he said. "I'd like to be part of helping to establish it as a cross-industry profession: warranty chain management. And I also believe in the educational opportunity to set some level of certification that people can reference, especially when looking at positions available with companies in warranty chain management. Those jobs are probably not too well-publicized, because they're not too well-defined."

The Future of Benchmarking

The Warranty Benchmarking Forum that Tom Washburn of HP helped to launch in 2005 and which Bellinger continued to helm through 2006 is slated to now become an activity of the iWCM. In fact, several of the iWCM charter team members first met at those early benchmarking events, and many people believe that the formation of the one led to the launch of the other. So now what?

"Where we struggle is making that attractive from a pricing perspective," Bellinger noted. For instance, he's now in the midst of evaluating yet another bid from a consultant interested in conducting a benchmarking study for the group. But who will pay, and how much each? Perhaps as an activity of the iWCM, he said, "we can get a better deal."

Benchmarking continues to be a topic that's of very high interest for IBM and several other longtime members of the forum. Then again, the initial emphasis of the iWCM is going to be on educational activities and professional certifications. So maybe the benchmarking effort will be put on simmer until that gets going? Or perhaps some of the members will now take it up privately?

Greg Spraker, the treasurer of the iWCM and an account manager at SAS Institute, said he also sees tremendous opportunities for newcomers to deepen their knowledge of warranty through the iWCM, and for industry veterans to broaden their circle of acquaintances through its activities.

"The Warranty Chain Management Conference next week is going to be a big deal for us," Spraker said, "because that's one of the core groups that we're going after for membership." But most of the WCM attendees are already warranty professionals, so they're already quasi-members of the community. It's hoped that the educational opportunities available through the institute will draw in people who are not yet "in" the industry, but are in one of the many closely-allied fields.

"Within warranty chain management, there are lots of components," Spraker said. "There's the financial management side, which has its own complexities. There's the analytics side. And there's the adjudication side." And it's not only the U.S. It also has an appeal globally among companies that are beginning to take customer service more seriously. "Those are the nuggets of opportunity," he said.

Building the Case for Membership

Kjell Hammarstrom, the chairman of the iWCM's Communication & Networking Committee and the warranty cost program manager at Sun Microsystems, said that while it's taken a year to get to this point, some people thought it would take even longer.

"When I discussed this with people within Sun, they said they thought this would be a very long process," he said. But he said his personal timetable turned out to be more accurate, with a launch within a year. Now, as he embarks on a mission to convince his managers within Sun that his continuing involvement in the iWCM will be productive, the fact that the institute is already ahead of their expectations can only help.

"In general, they support it," he said of his managers at Sun. Besides himself and financial analyst William Eliason, there aren't all that many people within the company who specialize in warranty. So there's the opportunity for them to meet their peers and perhaps bring some best practices gleaned through iWCM events and meetings back to Sun, and then there's an opportunity for more people within Sun to gain a more thorough understanding of all the warranty processes.

"I hope to learn a lot," he said. "I think that to share experiences and to share different views and opinions with other people in the chain, should be quite valuable." Perhaps it's a sign of how seriously Sun takes warranty and how much it pays attention to customer service. "Warranty service is a competitive weapon," Hammarstrom said. "Therefore, we need to be on the edge. We need to be there, doing the best we can do."





AMT Warranty Corp.
Fulcrum Analytics
Warranty Chain Management Conference
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