Font Size

- Aa +

Sun 9 Mar 2008 04:00 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Six times lucky

For most enterprises, implementing an ERP system once is traumatic enough, but EII had the experience six times - yet its executives survived to tell the tale.

For most enterprises, implementing an ERP system once is traumatic enough, but EII had the experience six times - yet its executives survived to tell the tale.

The recently-formed Emaar Industries and Investments (EII) is an investment company aimed at boosting the UAE's industrial sector, and buys in to various firms across the sector.

Currently with 12 subsidiary investments, at the time of the ERP implementation EII had five subsidiaries - each of which also required the ERP system.

With the five subsidiaries, you have to bring everyone together for a meeting, and this was hard. Everybody has their own work, and you have to get them all to agree on one time.

"We started planning in around February 2007 - we appointed KPMG to help us with the system selection," says Jalal El Jazzar, chief financial officer at EII.

"We looked at many systems - we took into consideration the maintenance, the staffing required, how the system would actually fit into our requirements."

"We didn't want to bring something in that would be beyond our requirements - a lot of services, a lot of maintenance. From this exercise we ended up choosing Microsoft NAV, from Columbus IT."

According to El Jazzar, another key reason for choosing NAV was its user-friendly interface, which made it easier for users throughout EII and its subsidiaries to accept the system.

This was a major plus compared to other systems the EII team looked at, which included SAP Business One, Orion, and Microsoft's Great Plains.

After selecting NAV, EII chose Columbus IT as its implementation partner, having shortlisted Columbus and Fujitsu from a wider field.

Following the selection procedure, EII's team began working on the detailed plan to implement NAV in the company itself and its five subsidiaries.

"We place our own financial controllers in all of our investments - every financial controller should have a strong track record, and a very good background," explains El Jazzar.

"Once we'd done the initial configuration of the new system, we brought in all the financial controllers, five at that point, around one table to discuss the requirements of the individual subsidiary companies.

"Every subsidiary had its own requirements - the systems that could be unified, we unified, to have a consistent system across the subsidiaries. Then we worked on whatever had to be retailored to suit the particular requirements of a subsidiary," he adds.

Although the decision to customise the system for the individual needs of particular subsidiaries potentially could have resulted in a massively complex project, EII took the opportunity to optimise the operations of its subsidiaries, so simultaneously reducing the amount of customisation, and improving the performance of its investments.

"When we buy into a company, we look into its organisation structure, and its policies and procedures and processes. Accordingly, when we started the ERP project we conducted an exercise in streamlining these processes and procedures, from finance to purchasing to operations," says El Jazzar.

"At the point of the implementation, these requirements were outlined, although this is a continuous process - you can never have a completely successful ERP implementation on the first attempt. It's an ongoing exercise - but so far the results are very satisfactory," he adds.
El Jazzar credits Joelle Moubayad, ERP associate at EII, as the key driving force behind the ERP project. Having done around 20 previous implementations of NAV, she had the experience to guide the firm through the deployment of the new system.

"The main challenge was going live with five separate subsidiaries at the same time, in a short implementation period," says Moubayad.

"With the five subsidiaries, you have to bring everyone together for a meeting, and this was hard. Everybody has their own work, and you have to get them all to agree on one date, one time to come here."

According to her, the backbone of EII's implementation was the roadmap Microsoft specifies for NAV implementations: "We started with a very detailed project plan - otherwise we wouldn't have been able to manage the implementation successfully."

"The project plan was very structured, very standard - it is how you do an implementation. You cannot skip any phase - although you can add phases, depending on users or needs."

"It is standard from Microsoft - you have to start with a study, a workshop, meetings to introduce the system to the key people, and so on - training comes at the end."

Although each subsidiary had its unique challenges, the overall experience of the ERP implementation was fairly similar for all, according to the EII team.

Starwood Industries is one of the original five companies that EII deployed the system in, and Pegah Shams, estimation manager at Starwood, says there were a few issues in the implementation, but overall it was relatively smooth.

"It was difficult to move to a new system at first - we had our existing system, and there was a lot going on at the time. But the ERP was actually quite user-friendly - and because the new system meant more information could be trusted to the system, instead of relying on individuals and making them responsible, this helped uptake," she explains.

"For a short period of time we had to attend training meetings, and we still have to use the older system in parallel with NAV, so it can be a bit difficult and time-consuming sometimes."

"But we're getting there! In some parts of the company we are still running the old system - we still need some information from it. Our work is so specialised - whatever the customer wants, we do - so for each customer there is a custom design, which we can't transfer," Shams comments, adding that Starwood hopes to move to NAV completely within the next couple of months.

El Jazzar explains EII's strategy for its investments, and how the ERP will fit into this strategy: "We don't intervene in the operations of our subsidiaries - the existing management at the companies take care of operations."

"If we need to bring more professional people into the companies, then we will do this. Our role is mainly to have the financial controller there, who makes sure the business plan is implemented as per the board approval.

"We meet regularly to discuss this and look at financial reports - in the absence of an ERP system, we were receiving a full set of financial reports from each of our subsidiaries by the tenth of the month - we had a custom-built form which each subsidiary would use."

"With the new ERP, we expect this reporting to improve substantially," he concludes.

EII quick factsFounded: 2005

Ownership: 40% by Emaar, 20% by Zabeel Investments, 40% by individual investors

Staff: 20

Current investments: 12, including Mammut Building Systems, Dynergy Technologies and Starwood Industries

Investment areas: industrial enterprises, especially in the construction materials, FMCG, healthcare and petrochemical sectors.

For all the latest tech news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.