Features

Scott Knote – Powell Electronics

Defense supplier thrives on new CRM and experienced staff

Piece by piece, Powell Electronics is a key supplier for the agriculture, defense and aerospace industries, supplying thumbtack-sized sensors and connectors or even the components that ensure space-bound rockets lift off cleanly and safely.

These are not always everyday items, Powell Chief Information Technology Officer Scott Knote says, but from procuring components to custom assembling when needed and then shipping them to customers, the company needs to incorporate customary e-commerce practices seen at suppliers such as Amazon, he adds.

“We’re a niche distributor that has doubled its revenue in the last few years and the service we offer is crucial,” Knote says. “We’ve reimagined our [enterprise resource planning] to focus more on front-end customer experience. We can manage through measurement—not based just on what we stock—because we need to be forward-looking to see what customers may need to meet their production schedules or future demand.”

They come, they stay

Founded in 1946 and headquartered in Swedesboro, New Jersey, Powell Electronics has grown to nine office locations in the U.S. as well as offices in Ireland and the Netherlands.

The nerve center remains in Swedesboro, with more than 60,000 square feet for component assembly and distribution. Knote says Powell distributes products made by more than 150 manufacturers, including larger ones such as 3M and smaller specialty ones making one or two parts needed by defense or aerospace contractors.

With an inventory of 25,000 items in component form, Powell can also assemble those components into 300,000 permutations of end items, Knote adds.

It’s a lot of space, a lot of inventory, but what makes Powell stand out is the experience of its staff, Knote says. Now in his second tenure with the company, his 6 1/2 years on the job cause barely a ripple in the longevity pool. For instance, the senior administrator of Powell’s SAP system is a 48-year company veteran—but that just barely compares to a recent retiree who’d been there 60 years.

It’s not just that Powell employees come and stay, though, they change with the times, Knote adds.

Mapping the trail

Between 80 and 90 people work in the assembly and distribution areas and have continued to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic. Front office staff in all locations have been able to work remotely and operations remained smooth.

“One of our biggest challenges came in how a remote model works, and I’m pleased to say the tenure and investment in careers has paid off,” Knote says.

Coronavirus has changed the workplace, but Knote already had changes in mind as 2020 arrived.

The components Powell assembles must be traceable and have proof they conform to standards. Knote says an in-progress upgrade to the SAP landscape across Powell—as part of the company’s enterprise resource planning platform—is essential to providing the trail of any part from its manufacture to its shipment to a customer.

On the back end, the company already scans and creates bar codes to map that journey. On the front end, a shift to web-based user interfaces, cloud integrations and providing real-time communication not only ensures customers get needed information quickly, it provides better storage for the massive amounts of data and certifications that are part and parcel of what Powell offers.

“We’ve made a lot of strides in the last few years getting people to adapt to the new technology,” Knote says. “We try to make things as transparent as possible because we don’t want to make it a science project when someone needs to learn something.”

Front-end support

The ERP is also integral to addressing customer needs that can fall into three categories, Knote adds. At their most urgent, a customer needs a part shipped immediately without regard to freight costs. A second category of Powell’s customers need rapid delivery, but still at the best price they can get. A third category is filled by the customers who steadily buy items, though they may need to be certain those components are all from the same batch.

Those needs must be balanced against warehouse space demands, Knote adds, as well as what to keep in stock or when to get it. Not only will the reimagined ERP help manage those inventory questions, it will provide the foundation for analytics on sales quotes and/or orders for customers and have ties to the e-commerce environment, providing a portal for self-service capability as well as delivering an omnichannel experience for Powell’s customer base.

Supply and demand

As he upgrades Powell’s ERP and CRM systems, Knote brings extensive experience as a supplier and customer to the fore.

A native of Altoona, Pennsylvania, Knote attended Penn State University and earned a bachelor’s in electromechanical engineering technology. He also has an MBA and a Master of Science in information systems and technology management from the University of Delaware, and certifications in program management and test and evaluation engineering from the Defense Acquisition University at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

His career in procurement and testing for the defense industry began in 2002 as a civilian senior test officer and then test manager for the U.S. Army at its Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. In 2007 he moved on to become a senior associate for tech consultants Booz Allen Hamilton.

Over the years, Knote has continued to work in the Aberdeen area, either with the U.S. Army or its consulting firms. He joined Powell in 2012 as its chief technology officer. While he began to make inroads in the company’s tech transformation, he left amicably in 2017 to pursue other opportunities.

While working again as a computer scientist at Aberdeen, he found Powell’s lure a strong one.

“I could not pass up the chance to come back to a place with such good people,” Knote says. “And it was so easy to pick up where I left off. My office was still there and all my notes were still in the file drawers. To take on all these initiatives and then layer in the tenure people have here is very special.”

Published on: July 16, 2020

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