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Mon 1 Mar 2004 04:00 AM

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Consolidated conglomerate

Bukhatir Group has overhauled its entire IT infrastructure to create a trading conglomerate capable of succeeding in an increasingly competitive marketplace. In addition to upgrading its server environment, the Sharjah-based firm has rolled out Oracle 11i. The software not only provides the automated back office functions Bukhatir requires, but it will also form the basis of a shared services initiative.

|~|person_M.jpg|~||~|Bukhatir Group has implemented Oracle’s E-Business Suite 11i enterprise resource planning (ERP) application across seven of its business units as part of an ongoing project to centralise and streamline its core accounting, human resources and procurement functions.

The implementation is being carried out by the Sharjah-based trading conglomerate’s own 15-strong technology team and is slated to reduce administrative costs, enhance data visibility and improved financial control. The Oracle app replaces Bukhtair’s legacy environment, which had developed in an ad hoc fashion with each business unit implementing its own technology of choice.

“Before implementing 11i, there were some instances of back end automation but they were all fragmented and there was no standard platform. This meant that, at the end of the month, a final spreadsheet would be sent here [to headquarters] to be consolidated and that would take another month,” explains Shuman Zaman, group IT manager, Bukhatir Group. “While acceptable in the past, the advent of competition and the fact that the market is opening up means the business needs to be more streamlined and able to change rapidly to meet competition head on. To do that, the business needs up to date information and ERP provides this,” he says.

Due to the fragmented nature of Bukhatir’s existing IT set up, the Oracle implementation has been approached as a greenfield project. As such, the Sharjah conglomerate has installed a new hardware infrastructure based around HP ProLiant servers from Emitac, connected its business units with leased lines from Etisalat and deployed thin clients from Citrix to facilitate remote site access.

“We approached this project as greenfield and decided to wipe the slate clean because at a group level, if you are going to consolidate, then you need everything to be standardised,” says Zaman. “We are running the servers centrally and this will act as a data centre so everyone will share the [Oracle] instance we have here and that will be run over leased lines,” he explains.

On the software side, the past 18 months has seen the financial, distribution and payroll modules of 11i deployed at, among others, Bukhatir’s real estate, investment, construction, block making and hiring companies. In each instance, historic data was left in the company’s legacy systems and existing business processes were reviewed and mapped to those within the Oracle application wherever possible.

Where there were gaps, the conglomerate’s own development team, which operates under the title of Intelligent Corporate Solutions (ICS), built additional forms or functionality to allow the company to still use the Oracle solution. So far, this additional development work has seen Bukhatir’s proprietary construction application integrated with the ERP solution and the development of an Oracle-based human resources application.

“We did not take Oracle HR because that is far too advanced for our current needs. What we did was build the application and the forms to look like the Oracle application ourselves. Now, when we do payroll within the Oracle system, it automatically updates our own HR application,” says Zaman. “However, we are addressing our HR policies and procedures for HR now and when they are streamlined we will look at Oracle HR and take our mapped out and streamlined processes into that module,” he explains.||**||Managing the change|~||~||~|While the technology side of the implementation has progressed at pace so far, Zaman says the toughest challenge has been the change management element of the project and getting users to buy into Bukhatir’s modified business processes. To help resolve this, a steering committee was formed and headed up by the group’s vice chairman, Salah Bukhatir.

In addition to addressing implementation problems and keeping tabs on the project, the committee also worked to communicate what was happening with the conglomerate’s employees. Key to this was the installation of an e-mail server that allowed Zaman and the team to communicate with the entire group and garner its feedback on a regular basis.

“The key to success is communication because if you isolate yourself then the key users will not buy in. It is difficult, but you have to show them why you are doing something and demonstrate the value that will have to the business,” says Zaman. “This is why putting in an Exchange server was key because it meant everyone had e-mail. This helped us share our opinions and gather feedback so everyone felt involved,” he explains.

So far, user feedback has been good and Bukhatir Group is already realising a number of benefits from the 11i suite. For example, financial control for both inter-company and external transactions has improved and users now have the ability to drill down from the balance sheets to the transaction level. This, in turn, means processes are running more efficiently and incomings and outgoings can be tracked more effectively.

In addition to improving internal controls, this means the Sharjah-based conglomerate is in a stronger position to negotiate with customers and suppliers and Bukhatir’s senior management can make better informed decisions about where the group is heading.

“With Oracle we are bringing all of the companies together on one platform so higher up the hierarchy they can take instant strategy decisions for every company within the group,” says Zaman. “For example, decision makers used to get bogged down but now the system allows them to retrieve information that is more meaningful so they can make decisions and take actions that impact on the business, such as relationships with suppliers. We can sit with people and know how to improve things,” he adds.

Moving forward, this control will increase further as 11i is implemented at the group’s outstanding business units and the conglomerate creates a shared services model to give each of the business units the back office functions it requires from a central location.

“We are creating a shared services centre and Oracle will be the backbone of this. We will offer HR, procurement and accounting as a shared service that the other companies can buy. It takes away the necessary burden for the companies when it comes to running a back office that doesn’t add any value to their core business,” explains Zaman. ||**||

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