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Mon 19 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Battle of the Bulge

Outsourcing firm MBS wanted an ERP system that could manage its rapidly growing workforce without compromising on its lean, efficient foundations.

Outsourcing firm MBS wanted an ERP system that could manage its rapidly growing workforce without compromising on its lean, efficient foundations.

It's an age-old conundrum - how to ensure that the growth of an enterprise matches the growth of its infrastructure. For most organisations, it's a smooth process that shadows the evolution of a company through its formative years.

But not all enterprises are that fortunate. Take outsourcing specialist MENA Business Services (MBS) which grew by nearly 800% in a single year in terms of manpower. The firm found that its existing account package and basic spreadsheets could no longer cope with managing this level of workforce - and made the decision to implement a complete integrated ERP system from IFS.

We wanted something that can grow with us – we are a fast growing company but we didn’t want to implement a big monster, because in terms of functionality, we wanted just to have enough for our real needs now. On the other side, we wanted an implementation that had to be very fast, very out of the box.

MBS first opened for business in 2003 and today operates in seven different countries with a total of 23 IT staff in place. The firm provides a range of contact centre services for a number of prominent clients including regional telecoms operators and utility providers, in addition to business process outsourcing services which mainly centre on medical transcription.

Luis Ortega, MBS's chief operating officer, explains: "We were starting to struggle with management of our human resources including payroll, the management of our finance and accounts - especially because we needed to consolidate on a monthly basis seven different companies. We also wanted to have various strong centralised units in the company to support everything related to purchasing, suppliers and so on. This was not possible with the previous solution we had in place."

"That's the reason why we decided to go for the implementation of an integrated ERP solution. We wanted something that can grow with us - we are a fast growing company but we didn't want to implement a big monster, because in terms of functionality, we wanted just to have enough for our real needs now. On the other side, we wanted an implementation that had to be very fast, very out of the box - we don't have too much customisation," he continues.

And when Ortega means fast, he means fast. After IFS was selected as the vendor in March 2008, the $250,000 project officially kicked off in April and MBS went live with all modules in July. The implementation required eight professionals from IFS and six individuals from MBS to complete successfully.

Ortega notes that the main drivers behind the project were business rather than technology-related: "We were severely constrained before because we could not do consolidation of our accounts on time - which is very important because our partners are a Kuwaiti investment group and an Omani national. The Kuwaiti group is part of a bigger stock market-listed group; obviously they have very tough requirements for all the subsidiary companies for financial reporting.

"The other reason has to do with our outsourcing business which is very intensive in the use of human resources. Since we now have 850 people, we wanted to have a proper and updated employee database with all information related to their history, CVs, skills and training. This was impossible with the previous situation where we used Excel spreadsheets for that purpose," he adds.

One of the key priorities when defining a project with wide-ranging effects such as ERP is ensuring that costs do not spiral out of hand. Ortega says that he had this aspect well in hand.

"We didn't want to make a lump sum investment in the project, because we trust that we can get involved with IFS and make better use of time and materials. It's interesting because most of the companies want the opposite - a fixed closed price. We thought that it was much better to go for an open time and materials model. There are a lot of non-measurable benefits of the implementation of the system that cannot be put in a formula to calculate the return on investment," he states.When it came to the selection of the vendor for the project, Ortega called up on his 15 years of previous experience in the IT industry and implementing ERP solutions to help him decide which would be best from the wide range of vendors.

"I knew that there were a number of products in the local market that might be interesting but we wanted someone with a strong presence locally directly linked to the product. With its local office and resources, IFS could provide that assistance and support us very closely," he explains.

"Secondly, we didn't want a monster package, something that would cost us a lot to maintain or to handle, which might have been the case with SAP or Oracle. We short-listed seven products, then identified the ones with a better presence, to which we added our own product experiences. We spoke to Oracle about having a product with a smaller focus - not Oracle Financials, while we also looked at Microsoft Dynamics as an option," adds Ortega.

"We called meetings with all these vendors. The only one that wanted to commit to the project in the short timeframe that we required was IFS. I would say that it was the most flexible partner and that was one of the key factors for us," he continues.

Post-implementation, Ortega declared himself satisfied with results so far, although he is keen to stress that this is only the beginning.

"When we planned the project, I spent three to four weeks before it started defining a very phased project. The implementation that we have done in July is only the first phase with certain objectives which have been fulfilled 100%. Obviously, I'm looking at the long-term view - next year we will add document management and more functionality to the human resource modules," he says.

"I'm closing accounts now on the 15th day of each month; previously, I would close two or three months late. We had a lot of problems before on the production of the payroll, especially of the seven different countries we are present in. Now everything is done properly, on time and accurately. We cannot think that the implementation has been done only as an investment in order to run better than before - it was absolutely necessary to run those functions in an automatic way," concludes Ortega.

MBS Systems' IT Infrastructure

ERP System: IFS

Contact Centre: Nortel

Workforce management: Teleopti

IT staff: 23

Workforce: 850

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Wasseem Libzo 10 years ago

(And when Ortega means fast, he means fast. After IFS was selected as the vendor in March 2008, the $250,000 project officially kicked off in April and MBS went live with all modules in July.) I just wanted to quote Mr. Ortega because I was a loyal MBS employee, and MBS, as a reward, stabbed me in the back. MBS didn't pay me my monthly salary since December 2008 (notice the date in the quotation) until June 2009 . Yes, I know what most of you will say.... : Why the hell did you stay all this time with MBS when they didn't pay you? My answer is simple: I was one of the oldest staff with MBS and I helped make it grow. I believed in MBS. My belief turned to be false.... And as I paid blood and sweat for MBS, MBS rewarded me with dismissing me because I went to court against them on May 2009. And I just received a new piece of information which says that MBS management has closed most of its branches and dismissed most of its employees without prior notice. I received a court order in my benefit, ordering MBS to pay me what is rightfully mine, but they are trying to stall. One last note: I was not the only one whom MBS didn't pay. With me were all the staff in Al Ain 2 Branches, Bani Yas Branch, Al Khalidia Branch and their call center in Dubai.... A total of about 400-500 employees. Wasseem Libzo