Multiple site management

Al Futtaim Trading Group is bringing greater management control to its huge IT environment with one of the Middle East’s first Tivoli projects. The benefits are expected to go far beyond just reducing chaos, Al Futtaim believes it will uncover hidden treasures through a better understanding of all its businesses.

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By  Greg Wilson Published  November 30, 2000

Al Futtaim Trading Group is bringing greater management control to its huge IT environment with one of the Middle East's first Tivoli projects. The benefits are expected to go far beyond just reducing chaos, Al Futtaim believes it will uncover hidden treasures through a better understanding of all its businesses.

Thinking big is nothing new to the systems, technologies & services division within Al Futtaim Trading Group. Within the last two years the Group implemented one of the region’s largest SAP R/3 projects and successfully addressed Y2K issues across its sprawling IT environment. At one time, the project team of external consultants and in-house project staff took over two floors of its office building — overshadowing Microsoft’s Dubai office, housed in the same building.

The current IT infrastructure reflects and supports the group’s diverse business interests, which cover such areas as the automotive industry, electronics, real estate, a multitude of retailing outlets and other projects, in 150 different sites across the UAE. In total, the group’s myriad NT and Unix servers have to power approximately 2500 PCs using a collection of legacy applications, SAP modules and standard office software.

Faced with such a huge, wide reaching and complex IT environment, Al Futtaim Trading Group has signed up for it’s latest big IT project — a comprehensive rollout of a process orientated systems management environment based on Tivoli Enterprise software.

In the long term, the agreement signed between IBM subsidiary Tivoli, local partner GBM and the trading group, will transform Al Futtaim’s IT organisation into a Tivoli service provider, with the creation of a core of home grown Tivoli consultants.

More immediately, the Tivoli implementation — one of the first in the region — will create a centralised management point for the IT team within the systems, technologies & services division.

Having to support an IT environment, which contains multiple PCs, 80 servers, 39 RS/6000 machines, AS/400s and two data centres over a wide geographical area creates an obvious drain on the organisation’s IT resources. The Tivoli project will enable the trading group to make better use of its human IT resources and shift its IT management tasks to a proactive footing, consequently enhancing the up time of business critical systems. “Centralised management is about becoming more proactive as opposed to reactive, to the IT environment,” says Arun Tewary, general manager, systems, technologies & services, Al Futtaim Trading Group.

“Problem resolution in the IT industry has been more or less reactive in nature. [Users] report problems and then [the IT department] attends to them. By having this solution we can attend to problems before they happen. The focus has now shifted from end users with frontend computers to more centralised environments, which enables proactive [management],” explained Tewary.

The proactive stance is going to be key for Al Futtaim in maintaining the uptime of its systems. After a comprehensive assessment of the available enterprise solutions, Al Futtaim decided Tivoli was the best fit for the organisation.

“[Tivoli has] the products that cater for different areas like network monitoring, or SAP R/3 monitoring. Depending on the environment they had the product,” says Tewary.

“The business benefit for us is to guarantee very high system availability for the business. We have commitment to guarantee uptime [for] our systems. The business [units] cannot afford to be without systems even for a very small duration.

[Tivoli] will help us achieve very high up time — this is the biggest motivation for the project.”

Although Al Futtaim already has a strong IT shop, particularly considering the size and the nature of the group’s IT environment, the deployment of Tivoli — due to begin shortly in a series of multiple phases — should enable the company to utilise it’s internal resources more productively. “One of the main reasons behind the project is a more productive use of the existing manpower,” says Tewary.

“Whereby, we don’t have to place people in various different locations, when you can have them centrally manage the entire infrastructure. There is a manpower problem in the region. It’s very difficult to retain manpower. This solution should solve some of these problems,” he adds.

Al Futtaim’s measured build up to the physical deployment of the enterprise management solution, will enable the group to obtain a greater understanding of the product itself and assess ‘quick win,’ areas within the IT environment to enable the organisation to make a rapid return on investment.

The project will target the pain points within the organisation and then implement Tivoli in a modular fashion so as not to disturb the everyday running of the various business systems.

“We have identified some quick wins — some of the products that are critical that should be put in place fairly quickly,” commented Tewary. “We should put these in place under phase one. Then the less important ones in phase two and then the rest in phase three. We’re going to break down the project into phases depending on its criticality and uses for the business.”

The modular approach to the Tivoli project is going to be aided by the enhanced flexibility of the solution. Once the initial core modules have been introduced to the IT environment, the systems, technologies & services division will then be able to “mix and match,” the other modules to tune the solution to Al Futtaim’s diverse business environment, says Tewary.

“Tivoli is quite flexible… there are a few core modules that have to be implemented first. [They] form the base foundations. After that it is up to the organisation with the consulting organisations as to which sequence the other modules will be implemented,” he adds.

The enhanced flexibility of what has traditionally been described as ‘framework’ solutions, such as Tivoli has played a large role increasing the market acceptability of enterprise software solutions.

As reported in ACN/15/6, issues of cost, complexity and the lack of user support created a backlash to framework solutions in the late ‘90s. However, over the course of 2000, more organisations seem prepared to take the plunge on large enterprise wide projects, particularly due to the greater local support.

Tewary is aware of the need to ensure knowledge transfer during the course of the Tivoli rollout. “When the organisation takes up the project one of the prime objectives is to get the skills transfer, so we can ensure that we have sufficient skills to support ourselves when the consultants go off site,” says Tewary.

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