The NetJets Set - Page 3

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Big-Bang Approach
IntelliJet II went live in February 2003, a little more than four years after it was conceived, at a cost of about $20 million. Midkiff says the project had to be modified several times to accommodate the companys rapid growth, adding to its cost and timeline.

The team of 50 developers did a "big-bang" rollout on Feb. 1, after eight months of testing. The old IntelliJet system was maintained as a backup if IntelliJet II ran into trouble. In the end, however, it wasnt needed.

That doesnt mean NetJets didnt run into turbulence along the way. It took a couple of tries before the development team found the right hardware/infrastructure mix. In the first go-round, the application and database were housed on Sun Microsystems equipment. However, NetJets eventually switched to Dell Computer equipment and Microsoft Windows after it found it could get twice the performance at a lower cost. Its now looking at transitioning its Oracle database for the same reasons, from Sun servers to Dell equipment running Linux.

With the upgrade, NetJets has seen a significant increase in the efficiency of the companys call center. Calls from the companys pilots and crews have been reduced because they now receive schedules directly via their BlackBerrys. Midkiff estimates the call center can now handle 25% more call volume without adding staff. He also reckons that staff in other areas, such as flight, meal, and ground-transportation planning, are about 30% more efficient because decision-making processes have been streamlined. "We dont plan to lay people off," he adds. "It just means we now have resources to absorb growth without adding people."

The launch of IntelliJet II comes at a critical time for the fractional jet-ownership industry. During the Internet boom of the late 1990s, the industry grew from about three or four players to upward of 50, says Jay Mesinger, an industry consultant who runs seminars for would-be jet owners.

Today, Mesinger estimates there are fewer than 10 players remaining in the fractional jet-ownership business. Before the shakeout is over, he says, it wouldnt be surprising to find only one or two flyers left—and hes betting NetJets will be one of them.

"IntelliJet II is an example of the way they run their entire business," says Mesinger, who has experienced the NetJets service firsthand several times. "Its gold-plated personalized service, from start to finish."