Central control

The Jordan-based Nuqul Group is one of the region's leading industrial conglomerates. It brings together 30 regional and global companies, more than 5,500 employees and exports to over 45 markets. Basem Burgan, Group IT director, talks to Colin Edwards about the centralisation of its IT operations.

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By  Colin Edwards Published  August 31, 2006

Arabian Computer News Let's start with how you got into IT. Was it something you always planned to move into as a career?Basem Burgan :No, not really. I come from an electrical engineering background and started my career in microprocessor control system design in 1985, before moving into manufacturing operations management about five years later.
ACN As a group do you run your IT centrally or does each member company have an autonomous operation?

ACN What do you perceive as the benefits of moving to a centralised IT?
BBWith centralisation we can drive standardisation, security and continuity.We can pool resources - human and technological; we can optimise the utilisation of the resources available to us and some of the issues associated with scalability, upgradeability and magnitudes of scales are also inherently resolved.With centralisation we can build centres of expertise that can best support the organisation's needs and provide services and solutions to our internal customers in an ASP model.

ACN Tell me a bit more about your ASP model. Is it something that you've already deployed or is it on the drawing board?
BB Our ASP model is still in its infancy, but will be in production early next year. Any application that can be served centrally is being licensed and deployed centrally.

ACN How will the ASP work in practice. Will Group IT work as a profit centre? Are there any challenges or issues that have to be addressed to succeed in this approach?
BB Group IT is not seeking to be a profit centre, but to reclaim costs incurred on behalf of the different business units.With centralisation we can optimise the use of infrastructure and our human resources, and we can also take advantage of magnitudes of scale in our purchasing, thus passing lower costs to the business units. At the same time we are ensuring that the standards are met and reducing the IT support cost to the organisation. So it's a win-win situation all round.

ACN Other than the move to an ASP model, has the group's centralisation IT strategy changed in recent years and if so why? What particular problems were addressed and what have been the results?
BB The concept of connecting the entire organisation - so systems can be centralised - has been around for many years in the group, but the obstacles were many, including cost effective technology readiness and availability. The telecommunications industry privatisation and deregulation in Jordan has gone a long way in improving services availability, quality and reliability.

ACN What do you think, from an ICT perspective, sets Nuqul apart from similar operations in the region?
BB The CEO's relentless drive towards transforming the organisation into becoming knowledge based and developing employees into knowledge workers along with his unyielding support and commitment towards IT initiatives.

ACN Do you depend on bought-in solutions or do you develop in house?
BB Our IT policy is to buy. When purchasing solutions we buy systems, technologies, ideas and practices developed by experts in their areas, and tried and tested in environments similar to ours across the globe. This is in line with overall organisational policy to use best technologies in all areas of the Group, and with commitment from the most senior levels in the organisation to change Group practices to fit best available practices via the use of technologies.

ACN How has your IT environment changed from five years ago in terms of the solutions you support and what do you believe are the reasons for these changes?
BB The complexity of the IT operation has certainly increased drastically.With different areas of the business relying more on technologies to simplify their operations, this added new systems to the IT portfolio for implementation and support. The number of concurrent project implementations is always increasing, and demands on IT along with expectations from IT are at an all time high. Nevertheless, we are at an advantage in that the hype around a lot of the concepts and technologies that came out at the end of the last century and the start of this one has subsided, and we can learn from other cultures and industries what really worked and what didn't, and what would work in our culture and industry.

ACN What major IT projects do you see being introduced in the short to medium term?
BB The drive towards standardisation and centralisation will continue. These two concepts will shape most projects in the future. ERP rollouts, communications and workflow will be chief among the projects in the time to come. Also a major focus will be on information and knowledge sharing and collaboration through the use of a centralised employee portal.

ACN What are the biggest challenges facing your industry and how is IT helping?
BB Knowledge management and human resource management are two of the top challenges, and with the introduction of the employee portal as a central point for sharing of knowledge and collaboration, and a state of the art human resource management system we are able to go a long way towards addressing these challenges.

ACN What are your top concerns as CIO and what are you doing to address them?
BB Building and maintaining a strong IT organisation is the foremost concern on my mind.We try to address it in the interim by selecting and working with strong partners from the vendor community. My second concern is change management and the time it takes to complete projects. I also share the same concerns of others in IT around infrastructure and systems security, reliability and availability.

ACN Where do you go to do your research on new technologies?
BB The internet is the primary starting point for research on new technologies, with focus on vertical portals for the technology being researched. After that, I depend on vendors to provide more detailed research and third party analysis, peer groups, events and conferences.

ACN What motivates you as an IT manager?
BB Accomplishment and making a difference in the organisation.

ACN What particular IT deployment are you most proud of?
BB At Nuqul it is the ERP rollout and completing the deployment of the Wide Area Network in Jordan connecting all Group sites in the country. These projects form the foundation for so much to come.

ACN In a nutshell, what's on that IT horizon?
BB The two key strategies are to centralise and standardise wherever it makes sense to do so.We are continuously looking to improve the availability of knowledge to decision makers at all levels.

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