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Mon 13 Aug 2007 12:25 PM

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The dream factory

As manufacturing in the Middle East expands, the industry looks to IT vendors to provide integrated software that can give the cutting edge in a competitive market. Brid-Aine Conway reports.

With work continuing on industrial cities in both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, it's clear that manufacturing is a growing industry in the Middle East. Many companies take a second look at their business plan when industry growth brings competition and manufacturing is no exception. The industry is now taking a new look at how technology can benefit their businesses and give them the advantage they need.

Traditionally, IT for the manufacturing industry has been segregated, one package for the back office, and maybe one for the shop floor, which has led to difficulties.

"Many manufacturing companies have struggled by coming up with quick fix solutions in the past, by developing something in house for example. It might appear that you can actually build something that's totally tailored to your needs but then you find out that, in reality, you're dependent on a few programmers who don't really have a bigger vision of what you as a company are doing right now, "says Marc Van der Ven, managing director of Sage Accpac Middle East.

Now that the industry is embracing IT, they are finding that there are many more vendors providing integrated solutions than before. These solutions are taking components like supply chain management (SCM), CRM and business intelligence, tailoring them to manufacturing, with industry-specific add-ons, and presenting integrated business software to manage manufacturing enterprises.

Sage recently launched the Sage X3 Enterprise package, aimed at the manufacturing industry, which is intended to "support the specific needs of most process manufacturers" and also features a discrete manufacturing version for hard goods and consumer goods manufacturers. Van der Ven believes that manufacturing IT solutions can only be provided as an integrated service built with the segment in mind and supported by people with a business or manufacturing background.

"IT is actually the least important: in reality the software component itself is not important, it should work by itself and it doesn't require a lot of skills to make the software work as a software. But the point is how you configure it - that is entirely dependent on the manufacturing requirement. So what you really need is manufacturing skills and understanding of the business process, and how to configure the software to do that," he says. "There's a lot of software in the market that comes with lots of bells and whistles but is not designed from the ground up for the manufacturing environment, so the first thing you need to look at is the background of the vendor, the kind of history it has with manufacturing solutions, and its focus with that specific product," he adds.

Manjeet Singh, managing director of Columbus IT Middle East, agrees that an IT vendor for manufacturing needs to have experience in the industry, but feels Columbus has a different approach to its software. The Copenhagen-listed company partners with a number of vendors, including Sage Accpac and Microsoft.
Columbus provides a basic package, Microsoft Dynamics AX or NAV, and adds parameters to allow the client to build their own corporate solution. Singh believes that by combining a basic package with optional extras, Columbus can provide specific solutions for a wide range of manufacturing enterprises. According to Singh, the key to customising the packages lies in having consultants who are trained in the exact manufacturing process of each client.

"Manufacturing is a very vast field - you have discrete manufacturing, you have batch processes, and you have continuous processes. Each of these industries has different characteristics and one consultant might not be equally good on all of them because he probably lacks some of the necessary practical experience. So I think we have to look for specialisation in consultants," he says.

"Somebody who has actually worked in a production environment, who has worked on a shop floor, who has gotten his hands dirty in the manufacturing area, and then who has come into IT, he makes the perfect manufacturing consultant because he has been there. And then he sees what technology can do and how it could benefit the client," he adds.

Manufacturing companies today are looking for company-wide solutions that put information at their fingertips. And more and more companies are thinking about implementing these solutions.

Oracle for Industrial Manufacturing provides a wide range of business applications that have been tailored to industrial manufacturing specifics that come as an integrated package. Vice president of retail, private and manufacturing at Oracle MEA, Arun Kehar, says that Oracle is receiving a lot more enquiries today than ever before. He believes it is no longer a luxury for a manufacturing enterprise to invest in a complete ERP package - it's a necessity.

"I think they have no choice. A lot of these companies did not look at IT in the past but we see a lot more enquiries today than ever before in the manufacturing industry. The industry used to buy IT, don't get me wrong, but they used to do it mainly for the back office and now I think what they're looking for is an enterprise-wide automation and that's the change," he says.

Duplas Al Sharq, a subsidiary of Emirates Investment and Development, is one such company. Previously, it used Focus Accounting Software, which fulfilled its financial needs, but did not offer any additional services - it is now using a customised Microsoft solution courtesy of Columbus IT. According to Ajaysingh Rajput, operations manager for production, HR and logistics, two and a half years ago, the company decided it needed a full-fledged ERP that would serve not only Duplas, but also the other companies in its group. The key function for the firm was to be able to access production data from the server, allowing all employees to get more detailed information.

"Today we can get all the information that we're looking for. All the machine details, all the production details, the downtime, it's possible to see all the information being collected through a central server, even our head office can see what production is going on at what time," he says.

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