Driving efficiencies

Al Hamid Group has implemented Microsoft Business Solutions’ Great Plains 7.0 enterprise resource planning (ERP) application at its head office and Abu Dhabi Motors operation.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  August 20, 2003

|~||~||~|Al Hamid Group has implemented Microsoft Business Solutions’ Great Plains 7.0 enterprise resource planning (ERP) application at its head office and Abu Dhabi Motors operation. In addition to delivering on the business group’s mantra of ‘non stop development,’ the project will allow Al Hamid to fully automate its business processes, cut costs and improve information access throughout the enterprise.

According to Jamal Shihadeh, financial controller of Abu Dhabi Motors, the deployment of an integrated ERP application was necessary if Al Hamid was to improve its management practices, accelerate its business processes and move forward as a trading entity.

“We had been looking for an integrated system for some time because we needed a technology to better manage the company from a financial point of view,” he says. “We needed a solution that would integrate with our existing systems, provide a total overview of our operations and deliver full business intelligence throughout our organisation,” he adds.

After scouring the market, Al Hamid was left with three options — SAP, Oracle and Great Plains. R/3 was discounted quickly due to its size, while the Microsoft software offered a favourable cost/benefit ratio compared to Oracle’s app.

An inhouse team, in conjunction with MDS Solutions, carried out the project. In addition to implementing the ERP app, the team also had to integrate it with Abu Dhabi Motors’ BMW specific front office system. This was done using a series of APIs written by the business group’s inhouse IT team over a two month period with an RPG2 programme. Now, when an invoice is generated in the front office system, the information is automatically updated in Great Plains.

Furthermore, because the Great Plains solution replaces an aging proprietary application, the business group had to ensure that the relevant information was migrated from the old system to the new. This was also done by the IT department, which downloaded the data to Excel and imported it to Great Plains. Data integrity was ensured as Al Hamid’s finance department worked on the two systems in parallel between March and May this year to make sure they tallied.

“We have been closing month by month in Great Plains and our old system. The figures matched so we felt comfortable with what we were doing. This process continued until May 31, when we stopped using the old system and moved to Great Plains completely,” explains Shihadeh.
In parallel to the integration and migration project, Al Hamid Group has overhauled its server environment and network infrastructure to ensure that remote locations can access information quickly and send financial data back to headquarters. This was done with leased lines, ISDN connections and a centralised router from Cisco.

“We worked on the network and we bought a new AS/400 server. We needed a new server because we wanted to connect a lot of locations to the head office. We evaluated our IT infrastructure and we realised that we needed to upgrade it. We have now done that,” Shihadeh says.

||**|||~||~||~|Abu Dhabi Motors has already realised a number of business benefits from the ERP app, including better cost control and more responsive tracking of its inventory. Furthermore, it has been able to automate its sales analysis reports, thereby allowing managers to track levels of performance and plan for the future more effectively.

“In the past, it has taken up to two months to close [the accounts]... but now it can be done within five days. This provides more timely and accurate information for management, which in turn allows them to make decisions more effectively,” says Shihadeh.

“At the same time, the salespeople will be more in the loop now in terms of how many sales are being made, how sales are changing and how prices and margins are altering. It will allow them to see if anything is going wrong and take the action they need to correct it,” he adds.

Additionally, Abu Dhabi Motors now has the capacity to accurately monitor interactions with distributors and customers, which has resulted in significantly improved cash flow by ensuring tight fiscal control across its diversified network.

“We are responsible for keeping track of orders made for spare BMW parts and new cars from both our Abu Dhabi and Al Ain bases. The flexibility offered by the Microsoft Business Solutions’ implementation means that we have instant information on what inventory we have available in either of our outlets and can match that to orders across our territory,” Shihadeh says.

Now that the implementation team has completed phase one of the project, it is switching its focus to the rest of the Abu Dhabi business group. According to Shihadeh, the team will tackle the rest of group’s businesses, which include general construction, chemical related manufacturing and real estate, once it has closed this year’s accounts.

“We started with Abu Dhabi Motors and Al Hamid Group because they are the biggest implementations… We will start rolling the software out in the companies once we have closed the year’s accounts… next March,” he confirms.

At the majority of Al Hamid’s businesses, the Microsoft app will be replacing accounting packages such as Quick Books. However, rather than deploying Great Plains ‘as is,’ the implementation team will customise it to make it as appropriate as possible for each business and ensure that the group gets the maximum ROI.
Furthermore, by replacing each legacy app with Great Plains and tweaking it, the group will be able to bring each division up to speed with Abu Dhabi Motors and Al Hamid Group. “This means we will be able to consolidate our financial statements [across the group] and move them online,” says Shihadeh.

In terms of extending the usage of the Great Plains application beyond its current back office functions, Al Hamid Group is considering a number of options. These include direct B2B integration with suppliers and B2C offerings for certain divisions.

“We are thinking about opening it [Great Plains] up slightly when it is implemented in the real estate division so that people who want to search for a vacant apartment can do so over the internet. It is still an idea at the moment though and we have to study the risk involved,” Shihadeh says. ||**||

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