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Sun 3 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Clinical trials

The planning stages of an IT project can be as crucial as the implementation itself. Foreseeing challenges and estimating returns are part and parcel of that planning, as ACN discovered when it spoke to AstraZeneca Gulf.

Clinical trials
SINGH: Our company became a group of 11 countries and that’s the complexity that was addded.

The planning stages of an IT project can be as crucial as the implementation itself. Foreseeing challenges and estimating returns are part and parcel of that planning, asACNdiscovered when it spoke to AstraZeneca Gulf.

When you are the regional office of an international company that believes in standardised IT systems, you expect to have your IT projects handed down from above. But when that region is the Middle East, it is no longer a certainty.

We knew at the time we had decided a bit on this that there was much more growth coming our way because things were taking time to formalise, so the best decision of that time was to wait.

The rate at which companies are able to grow in a maturing market like the Gulf is without doubt an inspiration for jealousy. But growth at such a rate should also inspire respect because it requires a company to be particularly nimble of mind if it hopes to stay on top of that growth.

This is the situation that AstraZeneca Gulf has found itself in recently. A subsidiary of worldwide pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca International, its IT infrastructure is for the most part dictated by standards in place company-wide.

"AstraZeneca globally operates pretty much a centralised infrastructure - we have one global network. We generally use a lot of global applications and we prefer to utilise them in each market so that we have a standardised information system across the globe," Damanvir Singh, IS/IT manager at AstraZeneca Gulf, explains.

But AstraZeneca Gulf is in the process of implementing Microsoft Dynamics NAV (formerly Navision) in its regional offices.

"This project is a local initiative, mainly because of our local business needs. It's a bit against the global policy of going with centralised systems, but we have to address our needs now," says Singh.

Those local needs are most heavily represented by the growth of the company over the last few years, leading AstraZeneca International to consolidate its regional subsidiaries.

"Our current system was a bit outdated and our regional team has been growing - from one office to reaching into a group of five or six countries. And now we have 11 countries altogether. This has happened in the last three to four years and this growth means AstraZeneca globally has decided to consolidate regions.

Our company became a group of 11 countries and that's the complexity that was added to our company so the business needs increased," says Singh.

"The major factor in this revolves around the dimensions that Navision offers, taking advantage of being able to use dimensions which are very relevant to our organisation. We're currently managing multiple company set-ups and we communicate with multiple principles within our organisations, based out of the UK, Sweden and other places.

So keeping those complexities in mind, Navision seemed to be a better and much more flexible product than we were expecting it to be," he continues.

Of course, having a system that is not a global standard for the company means that AstraZeneca Gulf also has to consider how that system will integrate into the global network.
There are multiple interfaces. In some places, you are looking at a manual interface because it just needs a manual intervention. "However in other places, we are looking at integrating it to send and receive information with the global systems," Singh explains.

This project has been in the pipeline for AstraZeneca Gulf for some time, according to Singh, but the company needed to have an accurate perception of its growth before going ahead with implementation.

"When we were combined into a bigger company, this thing started, about a year and a half ago. However, we knew at the time we had decided a bit on this that there was much more growth coming our way because things were taking time to formalise, so the best decision of that time was to wait and see the overall picture. Once we had a clear overall picture, which was the end of 2006, it became pretty much prominent in the first quarter of 2007," he says.

By the beginning of 2008, the business process mapping was completed. Singh is currently anticipating possible challenges the project will face after the customised implementation has taken place.

"Most of the challenges that we had visualised, we have gotten out of our way. The only challenge I would see would be around user training and user acceptance, which is key, and which is always a difficult one to guess.

But the best thing we could do to negate that was to involve them at every stage so because they have been involved at most of the stages, I don't see that will be a major challenge. However - you can never predict this," Singh says.

Involving the users was a key part of AstraZeneca Gulf's planning processes, even at the vendor selection stage.

"What we did was we created a small team which included business stakeholders and a few of the sample users. These users were a key for the drivers in terms of sharing the business needs with the suppliers," explains Singh.

With integration and user uptake taken into consideration at the planning stages of the implementation, it remains for AstraZeneca Gulf to see if Dynamics NAV can fulfill the business needs of its expanding enterprise. Singh is clear about the kind of return he expects on this investment.

"If you're dealing with a services segment model you generally can't put a value quotient on RoI.

If it's a sales product than it's, how much revenue do you generate? But with something like a financial or an IT system, it's more about quality of service and the ability to do your business better, because if we cannot run the business better, we can't empower our sales to work better," he concludes.

The AstraZeneca Gulf Dynamics NAV project is a work-in-progress: ACN hopes to revisit this implementation when it is completed later on in the year.

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