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Sun 19 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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The time machine

Emirates Identity Authority was on the lookout for a new CRM to manage its expanding resources – but had just five months to install it.

Emirates Identity Authority was on the lookout for a new CRM to manage its expanding resources - but had just five months to install it.

It's an accepted fact that CRM systems are never the shortest to deploy within an IT infrastructure. A typical system can take upwards of 12 months to go live - which was far more than the UAE's Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA) was prepared to wait.

The young organisation - started in 2004 - was tasked with building a population register for all individuals within the country and issuing ID cards to all residents. It decided a CRM system was what it needed to help facilitate this complex task and as Thamer Al Qasmemi explains, the choice of vendor was not difficult.

It's the fear of losing control. People thought that certain things would be taken out of their hands. But now the system is handling things very well.

"Microsoft is heavily present here when it comes to the front end users of the systems or even at the back end. When it comes to the business supporting systems where products for the staff are being deployed, it's also heavily dependent on Microsoft - even when it comes to storage," he comments.

Al Qasemi explains that EIDA went through a rigorous tendering process to select the system: "The strategic initiative was approved when we launched in July 2007. We immediately went through selecting a vendor. Of course, we went through various screenings as well as interviewing multiple vendors. Really, one of the things that we have used and supported was to ask around the government agencies. We know that deployment of such systems varies from private to government."

Integrator Bayanat received a good recommendation and eventually got the nod to go ahead with the project, based on its ability to be both cost-effective and rapid in deployment. With the UAE government's mandate that all business be conducted in Arabic, Dynamics's Arabised interface proved to be another key factor in its successful selection.

Al Qasemi says that the implementation took just five months from beginning in July 2007 to going live in January 2008 - a short period which was helped by the decision to use Dynamics in a mostly stock form.

"The five months really varied - most of the time was spent on gathering requirements. The top management has noticed the best practices available within the functionality of the product itself and therefore took a decision to just try to use the product as-is and opt for only minor customisation," he explains.

As mentioned previously, rapid deployment was the key driver behind the decision to use Microsoft Dynamics, although Qasemi notes that a little understanding of EIDA went a long way towards helping reach that goal.

‘The deployment was short because of the way that we have decided to go with the best practices - knowing how easy it was to set up, understand and gauge how relevant the processes were to the current government environment and knowing that the company has done a similar implementation. We also have multiple systems that manage strategy, time attendance and many other things. We did not want to invest in different products, so the integration was achieved in a very short period of time," he says.

He notes cost and user familiarity as the major factors in selection: "When it comes to cost, comparing ERP solutions to others were at least 45% more. It's also the user interface - how easy it is for people to use. We've been depending on Microsoft products so it adds value to us. With the expertise required for the IT team, most of our team are already Microsoft-certified professionals so it was easier for us to go there - but with other vendors, we would have invest a lot in training."

Seven vendors in total - including major names like SAP and Oracle - submitted tenders for the project. While Al Qasemi admits that budgetary concerns were a big part of the final selection, he says that ease of operation also played a role.

"It came down to - do I have the right support for this system at the back end, can my employees get familiar with the system so quickly, can the system be integrated with existing systems? Do I need to depend on the vendor for customisations?" explains Al Qasemi.

The actual implementation required four people each from Bayanat and EIDA to complete. Despite the tight deadlines set for the project, a number of unforeseen delays still managed to occur.

"In the beginning, we experienced a delay of something like 20 days on the project deliverables, due to the requirement gathering phase. With a product like this, having best practices implemented within it caused a little bit of difficulty with regard to changing people's mentality. People expected that the process automation meant taking what they do today as-is and automating it. Of course, it doesn't work like this," states Al Qasemi. "It's really the fear of losing control. People thought that certain things would be out of their hands. But now the system is handling things very well and they're used to it," he adds. Al Qasemi says the other major challenge during implementation came from an unexpected angle - the youthful age of EIDA's staff: "The problem was the project manager's maturity - we are a very young organisation and we are also one that empowers the employees.

The average age of the project manager that we have normally in most of the projects is from 20 to 25. That proved difficult, as they really didn't have enough experience.

"We have a PMO office managing all the 34 projects as part of my job. It was just a case of giving them all the training required as well as internal sessions, participating in certain meetings with the vendor, participating in resolving some of the issues that are raised during the project implementation. They definitely don't have the experience required but they've gained it very quickly," he explains.

Al Qasemi says the Microsoft Dynamics system has already had a marked effect on EIDA's productivity: "The cut in the process cycle was immediately noticeable. Certain things used to take three to four weeks, simple requests like "To Whom It May Concern Letters" or vacation requests. Now it takes hours instead. Reports take minutes and are more accurate as well.

"A lot of the departments thought that we'd need at least 20 people to manage HR - but we found that we only needed four people to run the HR module handling 500 employees," he added.

"There are still more expectations of the package itself. We believe that the more we use it, the more we'll understand the needs of the system itself. Five months later, we've also received a lot of demands to increase the project scope, to add more and more automation," he concludes.

Emirates ID Authority IT systems

Front-end systems:Microsoft

CRM:Microsoft Dynamics



Database systems:Oracle

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