// design

Redesigning An Aircraft Parts Sales Platform To Increase Catalog Maintainability And Automate Quoting

I led product design on a project to redesign the parts catalog and pricing platform for AAR, a publicly traded aircraft parts distribution company.
Figma, Azure DevOps
6 months
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I led product design on a project to redesign the parts catalog and pricing platform for AAR, a publicly traded aircraft parts distribution company.

We sought to remedy several problems that existed with the status quo. Sales teams could not set part pricing the way they wanted to in the current tool. These teams were dependent on the technology team to upload new part catalogs. And finally, many potential sales were being left on the table because they could not automatically quote sales prices for many requests they received.

By building this product, we were able to create a more robust parts catalog and pricing platform, enable the business users to import and modify their catalogs and develop a tool to allow the sales team to resolve blocked quotes.

The complaints of the product line and sales teams users

This product revolved around two types of users, the product line manager and the sales manager, each with different support sides of a distribution relationship with aircraft parts Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).

Product line managers are responsible for ensuring that the AAR catalog includes the latest pricing, lead time, and discounts for parts produced by that manufacturer. Still, their most significant issues were that they could not upload their catalogs themselves and often relied on someone from IT to do it. Sales managers are responsible for creating prices for the OEM catalog and managing the relationship between AAR and their customers. The biggest complaint of the sales manager was that they could not price parts on a margin and could not auto-quote parts when the system could not identify a registered customer to quote the part.

An old style UI screen displaying the parts catalog
A screenshot of the existing catalog view
An old style UI screen showing the quoting module
A view of the existing quoting module

Redesigning the cost and price structure

We quickly realized that although the existing product had been around for decades, no UI allowed a product line or sales manager to manage cost and price separately.

Instead, product line managers often managed the cost in spreadsheets, and they’d constantly calculate prices from desired margins and write them into the catalog as fixed prices. We introduced a new catalog cost and customer price UI, where we maintained two different contextual screens that allowed the product line and sales teams to have their workspace for managing AAR’s cost and sales price. This introduction of cost also allowed us to make considerable enhancements to the options the sales team would have regarding the pricing they can generate or calculate for their customers.

A UI screen on a dell external monitor showing a list of parts
A screenshot of the new Parts Catalog application, used by Product Line Managers to maintain AAR's cost for specific inventory
A UI screen on a dell external monitor showing a list of FSC's
A screenshot of the new Customer Pricing catalog, used by Sales Managers to maintain customers and the pricing they receive from AAR

Enhancing the pricing rules available

Once we introduced cost into the equation, we delivered a host of enhancements that made the sales manager’s life easier and more automated and provided net new methods of pricing and moving products.

We created UI to handle two types of discounts to the customer, one for bulk purchases and one for aging inventory that we want to get off our shelves. We built a UI that would allow the sales manager to set specific margins on an entire supplier by the federal supplier code (FSC), which allowed them to make sweeping price updates across thousands of parts from the same place. Finally, we implemented an alternate parts table and a customer tiers table, allowing the sales team to tell the system when alternate part numbers can quote in situations for specific customers that would accept an alternative option.

A UI screen on a dell external monitor showing Pricing for FSC current and future pricing rules
The current and future tier pricing allows the Sales Manager to set multiple years of pricing rules for specific customers
A UI screen on a dell external monitor showing current and future quantity pricing rules
The quantity price break pricing rule allowed Sales Managers to give discounts when their customers purchased items in bulk
A UI screen on a dell external monitor showing current Fiscal year pricing rules
The Fiscal Year price break allows Sales Managers to give discounts on aged inventory
A UI screen on a dell monitor showing a list of customers in Tier 1 of an FSC
The tier list displays all the customers that are included in a tier, or a special pricing group

Enabling the team to upload catalogs autonomously

After making these modifications to the catalog, we tackled the problem that there was no user interface for uploading the new records, which the product line team would receive from each OEM on a recurring annual basis as an excel spreadsheet.

We spent a lot of time learning how Product line managers used these excel spreadsheets today and found that a lot of data formatting had to happen within the file that the equipment manufacturer provided. We addressed this by creating a spreadsheet uploader flexible, selecting individual table columns to upload for each database attribute of a part, and marking whether or not they wanted to destroy any database catalog data that did not appear in the uploaded file. After selecting all of the columns, they tried to import; we provided them with a success and error log that would allow them to parse through any issues and re-upload them as necessary.

A UI screen on a chrome browser tab showing upload file and configure file options
This screen allows the Product Line Manager to configure their upload with global values that will apply to each record imported
A UI screen on a chrome tab showing Bulk Upload Part Data options for mapping data
I designed the bulk upload data field mapping screen to include three common upload scenarios commonly seen by the Product Line Manager

Maximizing auto-quote with the customer exception handler

After refactoring the catalog and making it easier for the user to enter new data, the final feature was to help some of the sales and lead generation that would occur automatically.

Our application had an existing feature that auto-generated quotes for potential customers looking for a specific part. The only problem was that thousands of these quote requests would go unanswered every day because the data we received about them, which we got through electronic data interchange (EDI), was incomplete and unable to match the request to an actual customer in our system. We created a customer exception handling tool that enables folks in the sales role to parse through a list of failed RFQs and auto-search in bulk for the correct customer so the program could automatically provide customer-specifically priced quotes moving forward.

A UI screen in a chrome ta b showing a list of customer exceptions and title Customer Exception Tool
This list of unresolved customer exceptions will serve as a jumping off point in the exception resolution flow
A UI screen showing a list of options to Assign Customer to RFQ
Once drilled into a blocked RFQ, the application automatically searches for potential matches based on the email(s) provided in the RFQ
A UI screen in a chrome tab showing a Create New Prospect form
If the correct customer does not already exist in the application, the Product Line Manager can autofill a new customer creation form with the known values provided in the RFQ

Saving hours and creating a more robust parts catalog

With this product, we delivered disruptive change to how AAR manages part cost and pricing.

My goal is to create the most disruptive and humane products possible. If you have a similar mission as me or have any questions about this project, please drop me a line at lukemanimala@gmail.com.

I hope to talk to you soon!

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