ACN's IT Managers of the Year 2000

ERP, mainframe migration, intranets, thin clients, Web portals, data warehouses, SANs, and much more. ACN revisits last year’s top sites and takes a peek at what’s big for 2001.

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By  Greg Wilson Published  January 2, 2001

|~||~||~|In August, having lunch in a restaurant in Qatar, one of the senior programmers of the Ministry of Civil Service Affairs & Housing makes a vital point. “The technology is the easy part, finding the people who can bring together the business and IT is a lot harder.”

The point rings home for every company in the region.

If organisations are to make the most of their IT investments it’s going to require a fundamental rewriting of the relationship between the IT department and the business.

Companies can no longer sanction coding for the sake of an immediate business need — they must create synergies between the technology project and the business aim.

Consequently, the role of the IT department is evolving to take on a greater responsibility across the entire business. It’s no longer about changing tape reels or being told to just keep it up and running.

It’s about carving out the company’s very future, ensuring it survives the rigorous, ultra competitive, globally connected world. The IT department is no longer a dusty little room buried in the basement. It’s evolving into the engine room of the business.

In return for greater responsibility, challenges, opportunities and rewards, the technology department is going to have to live up to business expectations. In the past, grandiose technology projects have failed primarily due to unrealistic notions issued from the boardroom. When those projects flopped the blame fell at the feet of IT.

If those expectations are too high, then it’s the role of the IT manager to inform the company what is realistically deliverable, at what cost and in what timeframe.

In 2001, the old adage of never being fired for buying the safest available solution has to be laid to rest. Companies are going to need several degrees of innovation, if they are to preserve their market position, grow the business and cut costs to become more efficient.

The fundamental redrawing of the role of the IT manager means he/she will increasingly be presented with the opportunity to devise strategies, drawing on the company’s strengths, innovating within the company’s IT infrastructure and making the most of the organisation’s resources — in terms of people, money and technology.

Going forward technology is going to demand a greater integration of technical expertise and business logic, resulting in the grunt work — the day to day running of an IT environment — being put on the backburner, to be handled by a service provider of sorts.

The new breed of business/technocrat will focus purely on the business deliverables, helping the organisation to navigate a rapidly changing Web landscape. The region as a whole has to lose its resistance to outsourcing and other IT management taboos — in whatever form — and concentrate on core competencies.

Has ACN seen the emergence of this next generation business/technocrat?

Yes and no.
||**|||~||~||~|There is certainly a growing appreciation amongst organisations to the changing role of the IT manager. But the majority of companies IT strategies over the last year have focused on putting the house in order.

Over the last year, businesses have been involved in core IT infrastructure projects. E-business remains on the horizon for many local companies, but most are only assessing the threats and opportunities to their current and future business model.

With many countries still facing Internet infrastructure problems in terms of cost of access and reliability of connection, the speed to embrace Web computing has varied.

But as the following article shows, some organisations are moving at pace, investing money up front, rolling out intranets internally to develop their own internal e-environment and generating familiarity with emerging Web technologies.

How rapidly organisations migrate to the next phase of e-business, will depend largely on whether they can find the necessary skills — either to reengineer their work processes for the Web, or find the business/technology skills to build and deploy sophisticated solutions.

To achieve these goals local organisations have to adopt a new mindset to migrate the company’s business to the Net, taking into account the ultra competitive, customer centric nature of the Internet.

The eight sites we profile in the following article are the best that we have seen over the last year — not necessarily because they are the most advanced or complex sites, but primarily because they have shown a clear understanding of the business objectives of their particular project.

Clearly, some have more resources to play with than others, however, it’s the services they have been able to produce, with the resources available and their state of completion that has impressed ACN.

Every site covered is undergoing a business transformation that will be vitally important as the emerging new economy takes hold amongst the Gulf’s countries.

Soon the e-business revolution will be over, and it will be just another way of doing business — but the companies profiled in the following pages have all demonstrated awareness to the challenges ahead in 2001 and the ensuing five years.

With the greater responsibility of melding the technology aims of a project with the business objectives now falling on the IT manager’s shoulders, it is perhaps ironic that the common thread between all the sites is the lack of people.

The majority of them have invested heavily in training to create local skills and embraced modern management techniques in an attempt to retain valued staff. Equally, most of them accept that staff are going to leave, but have realised the need to invest in people, alongside the investment in technology. Heading into next year, people, and how you manage them, will be the key issue facing all IT managers.

This article is written with the intention — as is all our end user coverage throughout the year — primarily to educate and to illustrate how technology is being used and deployed in the region, what are some of the challenges and solutions that IT managers have available to the enterprise in the region.

In the absence of accurate market data we’re hoping that the eight sites profiled here will provide the reader with an insight into the state of the market.

ACN IT MANAGERS OF THE YEAR 2000
" Abdulla Al Hammadi – QAPCO
" William Rowe – Bahrain Tradeanet
" Evan Powell – Al Tayer Group
" Mohamed Fahmy – Click GSM
" Lt.Col. Nader Fikri – Dubai Traffic Police Dept
" Simon Clements – National Bank of Kuwait
" Hugh Pride – Emirates Group
" Mohammed Farra – Public Warehousing Company
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WORKPLACE PORTAL: Abdulla Al Hammadi, head of information systems with petrochemical manufacturer, QAPCO, has put together a workplace portal service for the company’s employees, using JDeveloper and PL SQL cartridges. Future development plans, using the in-house component architecture include the extension of the portal service to customers, partners and suppliers.

WORKPLACE PORTAL: ABDULLA AL HAMMADI, QAPCO
• POSITION: Head of IS Qatar Petrochemical Company
• PROJECT: The year long development of a workplace portal using Oracle tools, has included the construction of a component frame to enable the company to rapidly deploy further services. Portal enables users to access an integrated backend.

While other IT managers are looking to reduce operational costs with ERP implementations or other backend infrastructure work, Abdulla Al Hammadi, the head of information systems at Qatar Petrochemical Company (QAPCO) has been investing heavily in R&D for the last 12 months to create a portal interface, which acts as a window on the information contained in business’ mission critical systems.

The result, QAPCO’s online employee portal, proposes to do nothing short of completely change the way employees work and use computers. The MyQapco portal delivers information and services to the employee specific to their role within the chemical manufacturer.

“It’s possible, in the future that portals could provide a threat to the traditional desktop. [MyQapco] is going to completely change the way we use computers… the way we work,” says Al Hammadi. “We’re using the portal to access our data, our communications, our alerts and even some of our applications.”

QAPCO’s advanced development work, conducted primarily with JDeveloper, PL SQL cartridges and based on Oracle’s 8i database platform is already delivering real business benefit for the company.

The portal service is facilitating a higher degree of information sharing across the company. For example, enabling a sales person in Singapore to access his portal services and check in real time on the status of product availability.

“[Sales people] can now plan sales in coordination with production,” says Al Hammadi. “Because of proper planning between sales, marketing and production, our manufacturing facility can shift production between one grade [of chemicals] and the next, avoiding the need to shut the plant down, the cost of which is very high — basically it makes economic sense,” explained Al Hammadi.

The employee portal enables senior managers — the initial users of the portal — to effectively manage their information. For example, managers can access data and drill down into it to obtain a better idea of the state of business. “The employee portal is tailored to the individual himself,” commented Al Hammadi.

For example, “the general manager wants to know how the company is performing from a top level, he wants to know the profits, the projections, whether the customers are happy, how is the stock level and other things. The line [of business] managers, their interests are different, they want to manage their own departments,” explained QAPCO’s head of IS.

Not only does the portal deliver analysis functionality and business data to senior managers, the portal is far easier to use than OLAP tools.

Previously, the company had invested in various OLAP tools for the management staff. But regardless of training initiatives there would still be operational difficulties.

However, with MyQapco, analysis of information requires the manager clicking on the relevant icon to drill down into figures.

“Senior managers don’t have time to learn packages. He wants the information quickly and easily, and he wants to get at that information by just using the mouse, he doesn’t have to type anything at all. Even without training he gets a full-fledged graphical outlook of the situation of the business, which he can use,” says Al Hammadi.

Over the forthcoming months, Al Hammadi and QAPCO’s development team are planning to rapidly expand the portal services, Web enabling more backend applications through a planned migration to Oracle 11i sometime in the first half of this year. Other services to be added include greater integration of video support and other CBT based services.

When adding services to MyQapco, the company is aided by the Java framework, which Al Hammadi says has taken up the vast majority of the development team’s time so far. The Java framework consists of internally developed components, which enable QAPCO to closely tie its integrated backend systems with the user-facing window.

“Once we have developed the framework we’re able to then rapidly rollout applications, by taking core components and linking them together. We can do applications very quickly,” says QAPCO Web developer, Syed Junaid Akbar.

“We then developed the framework that linked straight into our HR system. The portal knows exactly the individual’s roles and responsibilities based on the information from the HR system. This information then defines the level of access and services that the user has,” explains Akbar.

With the framework in place, QAPCO is now focusing on rolling out a similar customer portal, closely followed by a partner portal and then eventually a supplier portal. QAPCO started running internal pilots for its customer portal at the tail end of 2000.

“We’re using a step-by-step method of moving into an e-environment and maybe in a year or two, when the [portal idea] has matured, we’re all going to be using this technology,” predicts Al Hammadi.

Plans for the B2B portals are only in the early stages, but the company has ambitious plans for its portals. “This will slash our costs on the procurement side. But we don’t want to start on B2B without creating e-awareness, we’re slowly and systematically moving into the e-environment. We’re not jumping into this —it’s a culture that we have to introduce,” adds Al Hammadi.
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William Rowe, GM, Bahrain TradaNet

LOGISTICS PORTAL: WILLIAM ROWE, BTN
• POSITION: General manager, Bahrain TradaNet
• PROJECT: Implemented ABS 2000, a ground handling system at Bahrain Airport, which forms the core of the logistics community surrounding the airport. BTN operates www.bahrain-logistics.com as an ASP on behalf of CAA and BAS.

Much of the discussion this year has surrounded online market exchanges, and the automation of the supply chain across borders.

The Middle East’s logistics market place has seen its share of innovation with Dubai Ports & Customs (DP&C) taking its Mirsal customs clearance software online during 2000, and of course the advent of Tejari.com.

In Bahrain the deployment and integration of a sophisticated backend ground handling solution has held the key to bringing the island’s logistics community around the airport online.

At the core of the logistics portal — www.bahrain-logistics.com — is the ABS 2000 ground handling system, which delivers comprehensive logistics data simultaneously to the freight forwarders and agents. ABS 2000 “has all the functionality of an airport ground handling system and the additional element of warehousing,” says William Rowe, recently appointed general manager of Bahrain Tradanet (BTN), and the man in charge of implementing the solution in the early part of the year.

“To complete the community functionality there are the additional elements of messaging and customs clearance... [Integration] is very important that this solution can connect to the community members and of course that they can connect to it. There must be a community,” says Rowe.

BTN implemented and is operating the logistics portal as part of what is effectively an application service provider (ASP) model. After prolonged negotiations, the systems integrator was appointed to set up and run the portal, as part of a 25-year agreement with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and Bahrain Airport Services (BAS).

The physical deployment of the ABS 2000 solution, which only took three and half months, required the managing of several teams of engineers from different vendors coming on site to install their part of the solution.

Once the solution was in place, BTN then had to connect the ground handling system to the different backend systems run by the various community members. But “although there are standards in place, it doesn’t mean that they are always used. There are commonly variations, or [companies] don’t use standards at all. We had to connect with companies with all different types of systems, from different parts of the region,” explained Rowe.

To enable community members to share information between their own backend systems and ABS 2000, BTN brought in General Electric Information Services. GE installed a data translator switch, which effectively acts as a protocol converter, using primarily XML technologies.

With the backend system in place, BTN then developed a Web interface based around the messaging side of the ABS 2000 solution. Via the Web site cargo agents can now be notified when cargo has arrived at the airport, and they can track the full import or export history of a shipment from start to end.

Currently, the Web development has relied on Oracle’s development tools and 8i platform. There are future plans for Java development during 2001.

In the coming months, the island’s ports and customs bodies will be implementing their own systems. When they are in place, they too will link into the logistics portal.
“We’re providing the external interface of these logistics systems,” said Rowe.
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Evan Powell, Group IT GM, Al Tayer Group

MANAGEABLE INFRASTRUCTURE: EVAN POWELL, Al TAYER GROUP
• POSITION: Group IT general manager.
• PROJECT: Powell and his team have rolled out an intranet based on Windows 2000. The group’s W2K rollout has included extensive use of Active Directory. The company is also using Web Store, a centralised data repository inside Exchange 2000 to store all vital corporate data. To reduce management headaches the company is in the middle of a thin client rollout across its entire group. ERP is the next project on the list.

When Evan Powell walked on site as the group IT general manager with the UAE-based Al Tayer Group, he realised there was a load of work to be done.

The diverse trading group had lacked a coherent IT strategy for sometime, resulting in a complex IT environment with multiple operating systems and applications that presented some serious management headaches.

Without a vision to map together the business and technology needs of the group, the IT department had largely just had its head down coding to meet the immediate business need.

“What we had was a huge mess,” says Powell. “One of the first things that I did was look at the business vision. Where the business is and where should it be and where was the IT as part of that. Clearly, it wasn’t in the right place.”

With trading companies in the region facing up to the competitive pressures being brought by pending WTO agreements and the impact of the Web, the Al Tayer Group had to get its IT shop in order.

Powell put a strategy in place to use IT as the catalyst for change within the group’s 18 separate business units. “IT has changed its role considerably since the 1980s and even the 1990s — It is no long supporting the business, it is the business,” says Powell.

“We have set a vision; which is to facilitate or actually be a catalyst for change within the whole business. That is a cultural change, it’s a technology change; it’s a business [method] change,” he adds.

In the past 14 months Powell and his IT team have brought sweeping changes, including the construction of an intranet, based around Windows 2000, the use of Active Directory Services (ADS), the rollout of Exchange 2000, the installation of Compaq hardware at the backend, and most recently the rollout of thin clients, based on Win 2000’s Terminal Services across the group.

As this issue closes, the thin client rollout nears its end, and group will ready itself for an ERP project. “We’re implementing a simple, integrated and manageable IT infrastructure,” says Powell.

“The ultimate aim is to enhance the management of information within the company. We’re taking multiple paths — the intranet, the use of the Web Store in Exchange 2000 and the back office applications — to reach the goal of one business portal that everybody logs into.”

The majority of the last 12 months has been taken up with the installation of an intranet and rollout of thin clients. The intranet is running several applications including workflow apps and forms, which have been developed by a third party.

Users are also accessing their usual productivity software via the browser, and all the vital data is being saved to the Web Store — basically a centralised Web enabled repository of information in Exchange 2000.

“There is a lot of information that is valuable to the corporation and is stored in goodness knows how many different locations — hard disks, or a shared folder on a server somewhere,” explains Powell.

“This is valuable [corporate] information which isn’t readily available. We’re moving users to the Web Store, where users [save], and index their information and share it,“ he adds.

While working on Exchange 2000, the IT department was getting to grips with ADS, to ease the management headaches of an IT environment still in a transitional stage.

The introduction of ADS, has made the management of the IT environment a task for one man. Other team members now focus on applications and adding business value. Also by setting security policies in a central location, the company is now able to control exactly what services users can access.

“Your security policies in ADS are incredible, they can go down to such a granular level,” says Powell. “My IT staff [is smaller, but] we’re doing more ambitious [projects]. Ease of management is critical... now we focus on adding value,” explains Powell.

If Powell’s IT team has found the change to Windows 2000 a big leap, then the same has to be said for the user population within Al Tayer Group. When the implementation started the level of knowledge of Web technologies both within the IT department and the group, as a whole, was low.

Microsoft Consulting Services were brought in to bring the IT department up to speed.

However, managing the change amongst the user population wasn’t so easy. The change management has “been a huge task,” says Powell.

“Nobody understood the Web environment here at all. One of the reasons we decided to introduce the intranet was to get the user population to understand Web technology. I also needed to get it through to my guys why it was important to use this technology and why we were moving in this direction.”

Towards the end of the year, Powell began running pilots across the business using thin clients. With the last of the pilot schemes complete, Al Tayer has begun the migration to thin clients in force, and is due to finish at the end of this month.

The company has made a considerable saving by recycling its old stock of hardware to run browser-enabled applications based on Windows 2000 Terminal Services.

Similar to 1970’s mainframe connected dumb terminals, the current machines don’t require any intelligence within the box — it’s all centrally deployed and managed.

Each terminal delivers the Win 2000 desktop and Windows applications. “The compelling reason behind thin clients is that you can use anything. Look at our training room and you’ll wonder how we can use those machines, but all you need is a browser.”
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100% UPTIME: Click GSM’s Mohamed Fahmy (right) and Sayed Abdullatif, have worked during 2000 to install a SAN and a data warehouse.

SYSTEM UPTIME: MOHAMED FAHMY, CLICK GSM
• POSITION: Data Centre Executive.
• PROJECT: In the space of two years, the Egyptian mobile operator has installed a massive storage area network and put together a data warehouse, to aid its planning of future services and its investments in IT.

As the Internet fuels a data explosion within the enterprise and user expectation for around the clock system uptime grows, IT managers are considering more sophisticated backup/recovery and data management solutions.

Until recently the idea of storage area networks (SANs) and other advanced data management systems have remained on the backburner.

But Click GSM, an Egyptian mobile phone operator, has been building its SAN since mid-2000, to protect the data contained within its IT environment.

Click GSM has gone the whole way, implementing a fibre channel storage area network, relying on both disk and tape technology to support its rapidly escalating amounts of data.

The two year old mobile operator has installed an EMC Symetrix3930 with a data storage capacity of 9.9 terabytes of storage to protect and manage data contained within its two clustered Alpha 8400 boxes, running the business critical billing systems.

Supporting the Alpha machines, Click has also deployed two Compaq ES 40s, which give additional peace of mind by acting as disaster recovery boxes for the production Alpha machines.

“On the SAN we have the EMC connected to the Alpha 8400s running the billing system,” says Mohamed Z. Fahmy, data centre executive for Click GSM. “We have two [Compaq ES 40s], connected to the same [EMC] disk storage machine. They work as part of the disaster recovery solution for the production environment.”

Reinforcing the EMC disk machines, Click has also deployed a StorageTek L700, 20 tape drive, 700 tape slot machine, which enables the data centre staff to remove live data and backup traffic off the local area network.

“We have a separate channel for the backup and it will not affect the system or the users while we’re backing up our data,” says Fahmy.

The SAN also supports other servers within the network running applications such as Oracle Financials and HR. The SAN has been put together with the help of STME.

The SAN also supports a two terabyte data warehouse, containing all the customer information the GSM operator has gathered over the last two years.

The EMC box plugs into an E10000 Starfire from Sun, which hosts the data warehouse. The warehouse delivers critical business data to top management, enabling them to drill down into the data using various decision support tools.

“The data warehouse is used by the top management and delivers critical business information collected from around our entire environment,” says Fahmy.

The mobile operator’s IT infrastructure has been put together with both the SAN and data warehouse in mind. Click GSM didn’t have the difficulties associated with cleaning data from legacy applications, enabling the operator’s all Egyptian IT team to put together the warehouse in around six months.

“Our company didn’t have many of these problems associated with legacy data because we’re only two years old,” says Sayed Abdullatif, systems support manager, for the mobile operator.

“We considered a data warehousing system from day one, and all other applications that were considered had to be ready for data warehousing technology.”

As the race to introduce new services into the Egyptian mobile market intensifies, the warehouse is expected to grow at an exponential rate over the forthcoming months.

Consequently, Click is using the data warehouse to help its capacity planning for its storage requirements. Click expects its own storage requirements to grow between 50 and 100% in the coming months, says Abdullatif.

With “telecommunication we have to consider the business growth rate. We have to be ready to accommodate the business growth when we’re looking at our storage strategy,” adds Abdullatif.
||**|||~||~||~|CUSTOMER SERVICE: LT.COL. NADER FIKRI, DTP DEPT.
• POSITION: Director of the computer section, DTP Department.
• PROJECT: Lt. Col. Fikri has been developing customer centric systems for Dubai Traffic Police Department since 1994. In that time he has been responsible for a number of service innovations, including an Arabic voice interaction system. Most recently the inquiry and payment of traffic fines online.

The service is being rapidly expanded to enable users to pay speeding fines earned outside Dubai and the parking fines, which are the responsibility of Dubai Municipality.

If most Internet startups in the region took in between 5 and 6000 Dhs everyday, in a little over a month since its hard launch they would be quite happy.

So Dubai’s traffic police does have somewhat of a captive market, but the work to Web enable people’s inquires and payment of traffic fines via the Net is one of the initial e-government projects to go live in the region, and still the only service to offer payment services to the general public.

However, to the director of the computer section within Dubai Traffic Police Department, it’s just another way to meet the customer.

“We started to think like the customer,” says Lt. Col Nader Mohad Abdullah Fikri. “It’s a hassle if people have to come to call us or come to us to inquire about their traffic fines. Today, I can to come to you.”

The Web developments conducted by Lt. Col. Fikri and his eight man IT team are just another method of reaching the customer.

Since 1994, the IT section in the Traffic Police Department have been delivering a number of services to make the inquiry and payment of speeding fines easier.

For example, in December 1994, the department created an IVR (interactive voice recognition) system across 16 telephone lines. The work at the time included sharing information between a proprietary HP box and Windows for Workgroups. The project was further complicated by incompatibility issues between HP’s and Microsoft’s versions of Arabic.

After the IVR solution was introduced, other customer centric services rapidly followed, such as fax notification of traffic fines in 1996, e-mail in 1997, interactive terminals in 1998 and SMS in May of this year.

But the move to the Internet presented Lt. Col. Fikri with a whole new set of challenges.

“It was going to be a real challenge, I don’t know HTML, I don’t know WML, I don’t know Java Scripts, but I really wanted to do it,” says Lt. Col. Fikri.

At the start of 2000, with the encouragement of General Dhaihi Khalfan, the commander of Dubai Police, the IT section started investigating the possibilities of going online.

Starting up the Web site — www.dxbtraffic.gov.ae — meant that the department had to acquire a host of new skills, particularly in security and networking.

The IT skills in the computer section, mostly centred around the COBOL-based HP 3000 969 Super Mini, running a proprietary OS and database and Windows development.

The answer was relatively straightforward — get somebody else to do it.

“There were issues of security, firewalls, proxies and hackers coming in and damaging our system — all that sort of stuff,” explains Lt. Col. Fikri. “I wanted to concentrate on the applications and the services to the public.

"I didn’t want new employees who know about proxies, firewalls and networks. But we had the money to let somebody else take care of these things. I wanted to focus on the applications and giving the service to the public.”

In the space of three months — after some intense negotiating — Lt. Col. Fikri identified his partners for the online venture.

The computer section decided to host the service with Comtrust’s data centre in Abu Dhabi, removing many of the technical headaches.

The machine in the Abu Dhabi’s data centre connected to the traffic department via a 64 kbit leased line.

The server hosts the Web site, and search engine, which were designed and developed by House of Marketing in Dubai, using Microsoft’s Active Server Pages (ASP).

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Fikri designed the gateway application using Visual Basic 5, which resides on another Windows machine within the traffic department’s IT environment.

Requests from the Web site travel down to the 64-bit leased line, and on to the Web server, which generates another request, that’s forwarded to the HP backend. The HP box then delivers the data back to the Web server and then up to Comtrust.

The whole process happens in real time, says Lt. Col. Fikri. “[Visitors] can’t access the HP directly, they post requests here to the gateway server, we take those and relay those requests. [The Web developers] get on with his area of expertise, while I get on with mine. They don’t really need to know any of the business logic,” says Lt. Col. Fikri.

Another three months of development and negotiating with the local banks was necessary before the soft launch of the payment services was possible.

While House of Marketing got on with the ASP coding to integrate with Comtrust’s PayWare software, Lt. Col. Fikri began development of a five module payment solution that incorporated the business logic of the traffic department.

The payment solution was given a soft launch at the beginning of August and then a publicity campaign began at the start of October. “Then the amount of traffic on the site really started to grow,” says Lt. Col. Fikri. In October the site took 90,000 Dhs in payment for traffic fines.

However, evolution of the site hasn’t stopped there.

After only a month and a half of operation, Lt. Col. Fikri was developing again, this time to incorporate inquires and most recently the payment of other traffic fines, such as parking tickets, which are handled by Dubai Municipality and speeding tickets from other Emirates.

“People don’t want to drive and pay traffic fines that they picked up in Abu Dhabi, at the local branch of the Abu Dhabi National Bank,” says the Lieutenant Colonel. “It’s a waste of time, and time is money.”

With those services added, the traffic department is now looking to offer both the registration and license renewal to its site. Lt. Col. Fikri is already on the case, investigating several other services and sites, which could be added to the list.
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CUSTOMER CENTRIC BANKING: SIMON CLEMENTS, NBK
• POSITION: General manager, e-business group.
• PROJECT: NBK has constructed an enterprise data warehouse over the last three years. The project has involved the cleaning of data from the bank’s legacy systems. The warehouse has already proved key in delivering a customer centric approach to its client base. With the warehouse in place, NBK has embarked on an aggressive e-banking strategy adding services to the retail and corporate sector throughout the year.

The idea behind data warehousing sounds straightforward — collect and clean all the data within an organisation and put it into one central repository.

With a centralised core of customer data, the organisation will then be able to build or deploy several applications on top of the warehouse to slice and dice customer data and enable the business to create customer centric strategies to become more competitive.

In reality data warehousing has earned a bad reputation, often being criticised for being expensive, extraordinaryly complex, high risk and offering a slow return on investment.

However, National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) has spent the last year reaping the rewards of its data warehousing project.

The enterprise warehouse is at the core of the bank’s customer centric strategy, enabling it to market its services to a segment of one — treating customers as individuals.

“We couldn’t manage relationships with our customers without the warehouse. It allows us to see what our customers are doing and we’re able to derive ideas and strategies from their behaviour,” Simon Clements, then general manager of operations & IT within NBK, told ACN at the beginning of the year.

With the idea of a single view of the customer in mind, NBK embarked from day one to create an enterprise data warehouse, dismissing the cheaper possibility of a series of data marts, believing that only the full warehouse could deliver the overall view of the customer.

“It is almost impossible to justify a data warehouse from an ROI [return on investment] perspective. For us the strategic importance of customer information was too compelling” said Clements. “Only an enterprise data warehouse was going to make [NBK] a totally customer centric bank.”

The most time consuming and complex element of the project was cleaning of data from the legacy applications before it was exported to the IBM DB2-based warehouse. To clean up the “inconsistent and incompatible,” data, NBK turned to SAS Institute tools, to design and a create a data model.

Currently, the data warehouse is holding nearly four years worth of corporate and retail banking data, enabling the financial institution to segment its customer base and create customer profiles, detailing an individual’s relationship with NBK.

Through customer segmentation, the bank can identify its most profitable customers and also devise strategies to make other customer segments more profitable.

For example, the bank's 250 relationship officers across its 40 branch offices can pull down information from the warehouse, via an internally developed browser application.

With the customer data in front of them, they are in a better position to understand the customers behaviour, and perhaps encourage them to use cheaper delivery channels such as ATMs or the Internet, rather than a branch office.

With the IBM data warehouse in place, NBK is increasingly focusing on strategic deliverables, leveraging the business logic layer the bank has developed over the last few years.

One of those key deliverables over the last 12 months and certainly going forward is the Internet.

Early in the year, the bank began its Internet offerings, with some unique services, such as Internet shopping cards. The card enable holders to claim discounts with established B2C sites, like Amazon.com and Cdnow.

NBK also teamed up with local ISP partner, Quality Net to offer discounted Internet subscriptions to users.

During the course of the year the bank has also added mobile banking functionality including SMS messaging and in the future WAP. The bank has been able to rapidly deliver its e-banking services using Microsoft’s tools and COM objects.

However, the delivery of services hasn’t just focused around the areas of banking, NBK is looking to do nothing short of create a financial services portal for the whole region.

Clements, having taken over NBK’s e-business group during this year, currently sees the development of Internet services as a customer retention tool, rather than a means of customer retention.

“As we move forward and offer new services — such as online brokerage — and develop best of breed online offerings we will be targeting customer acquisition as a key part of our strategy for those customers who fit our targeted segment profiles,” says Clements.

Towards the end of the year NBK also embarked on an offensive to bring its corporate customers to the Web. Teaming up to form a banking consortium local banks — including big banking names, such as Arab Bank of Jordan, Saudi American Bank (SAMBA), Egypt’s Commercial International Bank, the National Bank of Dubai and Citibank UAE — to create a community of online buyers and sellers to trade regionally and internationally in a secure environment by the end of Q1 2001.
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GLOBAL BUSINESS: HUGH PRIDE, EMIRATES GROUP
• POSITION: Director of information systems, Emirates Group & Mercator.
• PROJECT: Mercator, the IT service arm of Emirates Group, took its internal software development work and transformed it into a global software business in the space of five years. Internal project work included the completion of a huge NT rollout, and the beginning of the group’s migration to an e-business footing. Also the company begun an Oracle HR rollout.

Companies attempting to build a business on the back of a successful bit of coding or around implementation expertise is nothing new in the region.

But few companies can claim to be as successful as Mercator.

In the space of five years, the internal IT department has grown into a global software and services business.

Core to Mercator’s success has been its collection of home grown, aviation specific, revenue accounting packages originally designed for sister business unit, Emirates Airlines.

Five years on, and the IT service provider to the entire Emirates Group has clocked up end user sites on five continents, including big name users, such as British Airways and Quantus, and as small as Air Zimbabwe.

Alongside the commercial success of its Oracle based RAPID, COMET and PROFIT financial accounting packages, Mercator is also now seeing a growing demand for its services capabilities, delivering everything from business consulting, to advice on the complex migration to IP-based networks.

But says, director of information systems for Emirates Group, Hugh Pride, it hasn’t been the highly technical people, the successful development projects or awareness to the necessary business issues, which have been key to the growth of Mercator — although they have undoubtedly helped.

It was the decision five years ago to set up Mercator as a separate business unit, which enabled a change in mindset from IT department, to commercially aware business unit, with its own project deadlines, and the need to control and plan its own resources to deliver finished products.

“Previously, we were a typical IT organisation, which was within the line management of Dnata and the airline,” says Pride.

“But we found that by establishing ourselves as a separate business unit, we were able to take a contractual approach to the services that we were providing.

"Instead of just being available to do work — at the risk of being very unresponsive to the needs of the business — we actually started to develop five year plans with the airline and Dnata,” explains Pride.

With the dynamic growth over the last five years, the commercially aware Mercator is not only looking at the business needs of Emirates Airlines or Dnata, but also the rest of the market needs. Part of those needs include a migration of further services to the Web. Emirates Group is already touting its online services, such as loyalty programme — Skywards — and SkyCargo its online cargo handling capabilities.

Alongside the commercial success of Mercator over the last 12 months, the IT services company has also completed a number of major projects internally, including an enormous rollout Windows NT completed at the start of 2000.

As part of the ‘Pathfinder’ project, Mercator deployed 8500 Exchange mailboxes, 4000 desktops and 65 servers worldwide.

Also early in the year, the entire Emirates Group began its move towards an e-business footing, a project in which Mercator is likely to play a huge integration role, ensuring a coherent Web architecture to deliver the company’s entire range of services.

The project, which is still ongoing, demands a balancing act of change management, business process re-engineering, cross business unit communication and system integration to ensure that the group as a whole presents a cohesive set of services to the customer.

To ensure that these services are delivered, Mercator has formed an E-Business Group, with a cross department remit offering business and technology consulting.

As Mercator continues to grow and deliver greater services both internally and externally, the IT services organisation is going to have to both continue to develop its own internal human resources and of course continue to recruit staff from outside the market.

To enhance its HR operation, streamline its operations and increase its skills retention rate, Mercator recently signed a deal with Oracle for its Human Resource Management System (HRMS), which will be deployed across the whole group.
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FAULT TOLERANCE: MOHAMMED FARRA, PWC
• POSITION: Director, strategic business systems.
• PROJECT: Over the last 12 months, PWC has rolled out a SAN to ensure the availability of its critical business data. To simplify the management of its complex IT environment the logistics company also deployed CA’s Unicenter in the space of six months. With its rock solid infrastructure in place, PWC is now evolving into a service provider, offering hosting, payment and inventory management and delivery to local merchants.

Third party logistics, warehousing, supply chain services and other ‘value added’ warehousing management has always been the bread & butter business of Public Warehousing Company (PWC).

However, the deployment of a cast iron IT infrastructure over the last year has left the Kuwaiti logistics giant poised to assume a classic service provider role.

To ensure 100% uptime, PWC has invested heavily in an EMC/StorageTek based storage area network (SAN). The SAN backs up data from the business critical warehouse management system from EXE Technologies.

The EXceed management package forms the backbone of the logistics company’s entire business operation, providing up to the second information on the status of every item from the moment it enters, to the time it leaves.

EXceed even makes suggestions about the best position to store the package, based on the dimensions of the container and its contents.

“We’ve got to ensure the availability of the whole system, that is key,” says PWC’s director of strategic business solutions, Mohammed Ghassan Farra. “EXceed keeps track of the lot, from the moment the merchandise arrives, to the moment it leaves.”

With just about every conceivable business function of the logistics business tied into the EXceed package, the company has gone all out to ensure system uptime and integrity of its logistics data.

Currently, a series of four clustered Compaq NT servers runs both the EXceed package and Oracle Financials. All the servers have fault tolerant “everything,” says Farra.

To build the SAN, PWC brought in STME, a value added ‘storage’ reseller.

The mirrored servers are connected via a fibre channel to the EMC enterprise disk storage boxes in the backend. Backing up data from the two EMC machines are a further two StorageTek robotic tape libraries and four Storage tape drives. The whole SAN is managed by a collection of EMC data management software.

The advent of the SAN in turn raised management issues for PWC’s IT team. Although the additional hardware and software maintain system uptime and protect the business critical data, just how PWC was to track and monitor every component — no matter how small — within its much larger, more complex environment presented a problem.

The company brought in and installed CA’s TNG Unicenter in six months, to streamline the management of its IT environment. The Unicenter framework manages every single disk and network infrastructure component in the environment.

“With the SAN in place the infrastructure was just so complex,” says Farra. “We’re using CA’s agent technology to monitor every single system in the network. If there is anything wrong, we’re immediately notified — a red flag goes up and we can attend to the problem.”

The system availability that PWC has invested in has merely been a means to an end. Towards the end of August, the company started to rapidly roll out a series of services to the Web.

Initially, the company planned to add such things as online customs clearance and online payment to its Web front end.

However, as the year clattered to a close, PWC began its own commercial site, offering a payment gateway through a partnership with NBK (National Bank of Kuwait) and logistics and delivery services itself.

“When a customer place orders on the Web site, it instantly enters our backend systems,” explains Farra.

Once the customer orders an item, the system automatically checks the availability in the warehouse, and informs the customer. “If you look at the problems during Christmas [1999] many people who ordered from the Web were disappointed because the stock wasn’t available — the order couldn’t be fulfilled because of problems with the logistics [operation.] This way it’s accurate, with no human interference and based on the warehouse system.

When the ‘picker’ goes to physically get the order, he double-checks it with a barcode reader. When the order is assembled it’s quality checked and then sent out,” he adds.

However, PWC’s plans don’t stop offering its own services. The logistics expert intends to offer similar services to regional merchants that wish to go online.

PWC will host a merchant’s site, manage the online catalogue, the inventory levels and order fulfilment. “All they have to do is store their goods with us, so we can deliver them,” says Farra.

“For the merchant there is minimal investment and no reengineering of their business processes, which is often a time consuming and costly process. There is very little risk, just a monthly charge for the service.”

The initial merchant store is due to go live as this issue closes, but says Farra, there are another three or four merchants waiting to go online, offering a collection of services from groceries to office furniture. “This is the reason that we can’t afford our systems to go down.”||**||

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