Thuraya favours Great Plains

Thuraya drops Oracle and teams up with Microsoft to overhaul its IT platform with the software giant’s Great Plains solution.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  March 23, 2005

|~|Thuraya100.jpg|~|We believe the Microsoft solution will give us a better return on investment, says Thuraya’s Sayed Mohammad Sharaf.|~|Satellite communications company Thuraya is replacing its Oracle-based business applications with Microsoft’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite, Great Plains. Under the agreement, Thuraya will move its existing ERP apps, which include sales orders, inventory, and financial and human resource management, to Microsoft Business Solutions Great Plains 8.0 ERP.

The web-enabled capabilities of ERP will provide an electronic transaction and communication platform between Thuraya and its partners across the world. In addition, Microsoft will provide support and will also be deploying its Share Point portal server at Thuraya’s offices worldwide. The software giant’s regional partner Mideast Data Systems (MDS) will manage the deployment.

The new solution will replace a combination of systems Thuraya was originally using, including a range of modules from Oracle Financials and inventory control software from Vertscape, among other packages. The company believes a more comprehensive ERP solution will better suit its budget and needs.

Microsoft won the contract for the migration, following a six-month product evaluation by Thuraya. However, Thuraya executives were not in a position to comment on whether Oracle had attempted to convince it to stay with the platform. “We negotiated with everybody and selected Microsoft,” says Sayed Mohammad Sharaf, executive manager of finance for Thuraya.

The company, which preferred not to discuss in detail as to why it dropped the Oracle solution, says the new solution will be better suited to meet its growing business demands.
“This will give us a faster return on our investment than other solutions. If you implement a system and don’t use all the functionality, you lose value,” he explains.

The user-friendliness of the solution was a major consideration for Thuraya in making its decision,” says Sultan Al Ghafli, executive manager of support services for Thuraya. “Our enterprise resource planning technology is core to most of our staff. Microsoft business solutions are user friendly, which should increase usage and productivity, and hence create better and faster return on investment (ROI),’’ says Ghafli.

Sharaf shares Ghafli’s sentiments and concedes that functionality is of utmost importance. “We want to provide our workforce with versatile technology solutions that manage their business needs,” he says. “We need to seamlessly manage our database and ensure the security and reliability of our web and remote transactions, as well as that of our network.’’

In the last two years, Thuraya has further expanded its coverage area, increased its workforce by nearly 30%, and has grown its service provider network by 70%.“We had reached a point where we had to upgrade everything,” says Ghafli, “The options were either to look at Oracle or other vendors with a similar solution, but we had constraints with our budget and time, as well as our needs,” he notes.

The fact that Microsoft is working as a contractor on the deal gives Thuraya confidence and is evidence to Ghafli of the level of commitment that the vendor is prepared to give to ensure success for the migration project. “This will be their development and we are counting on them to deliver zero defects,” he says.

Over the next 12 months, Microsoft and MDS will migrate Thuraya's existing business applications to the new business solutions and will build the satellite company’s web-based business capabilities through Microsoft server technologies.

A team of 15 Thuraya staff will be involved in the project and will be assisted by another seven from MDS. At this stage, Thuraya is assessing its business requirements, preparing itself for business blueprint planning and the ensuing development.

Competition is fierce in the ERP market. The Middle East is currently enjoying a 30% growth rate in the ERP segment of the market and Microsoft has been aggressively targeting this space, having launched its campaign to win over former PeopleSoft users following the Oracle/PeopleSoft merger that was finalised at the beginning of the year.

The software giant has been persuading PeopleSoft customers to consider Great Plains and Axapta applications by offering discounts on software and reductions on licence fees and the cost of annual support programmes for PeopleSoft subscribers.

Although in the past Microsoft has been restrained in its efforts to corner the ERP market, since its acquisition of Great Plains Software and Navision, it has begun to create a stir. For Microsoft, the Thuraya deal is not only a financial triumph, but also a strategic market positioning in the ERP space.

The Redmond-based vendor hopes to consolidate its position in the ERP marketplace by securing the support of high-profile customers like Thuraya in the Middle East. “What is special about this deal is that we’re hoping to use it to demonstrate our ability to deliver a complex ERP solution at this level,” says Zaid Abunuwar, enterprise group director for Microsoft South Gulf.

However, Thuraya’s deal with Microsoft is not a serious concern for Oracle, according to Francis Veldeman, vice president of Oracle’s e-business suite for Europe, Middle East and Africa. “Oracle’s place in the marketplace is relatively solid. It already had a very high percentage of the Middle Eastern market and by combining with PeopleSoft we are confident that we will be by far the number one in the Middle East.”

Veldeman is also convinced the Oracle packages are competitive enough to compete with Microsoft. “The strengths of both the PeopleSoft and Oracle ERP solutions are being leveraged and incorporated in our upgrades. We are taking the best features of both the PeopleSoft and Oracle solutions and throwing them into the melting pot,” he says. “There is also no headache for customers who remain with Oracle because there is no need for a migration of any type,” he adds.

A pre-merger survey by the Yankee Group of 200 PeopleSoft customers in December and January showed that 46% of them expect to migrate to other vendors' applications. However, another survey by Yankee Group’s Brandmonitor indicates that while a few PeopleSoft customers may yet go to rival application vendors such as Microsoft, most are likely to stay faithful to Oracle when it launches its Fusion suite of merged Oracle-PeopleSoft-J.D. Edwards applications in 2007 and 2008.

“Microsoft might be talking about a customer who is planning to migrate, but we at Oracle are talking about a customer who has already migrated and is very happy with the result,” says Ayman Abouseif, senior marketing director at Oracle Middle East.

Oracle has secured leading share of PeopleSoft’s human resources management application market, including the provision of solutions to 70% of the top one thousand US companies, and it is unlikely that these customers will migrate to a non-Oracle supplier.

However, Oracle must ensure that it follows through on its promised support and Fusion applications as the battle between the two giants is set to continue but, as Abouseif, says, “Microsoft can only claim this as a success story when and if the application successfully goes live at Thuraya.”
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