Asset Management

The larger the end user organisation, the more assets it has. CIOs need to keep track of their company’s assets and ensure that they deploy right solutions to manage them.

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By  Shankar Sharma Published  March 27, 2005

|~|riybank_logoA.jpg|~||~|How to fully utilise the resources at one’s disposal is one of the major dilemmas facing enterprises not only in the Middle East, but also around the globe. Increased efficiency results in costs savings and allows enterprises to focus attention to grander plans. Rashed AlOthman, senior vice president of IT services and control at Riyad Bank, has a simple mantra: The less complex a system an enterprise has, the fewer resources it is going to utilise.

AlOthman is the chief architect of bridging Riyad Bank’s IT with its business, and has headed an extensive IT asset management program for his organisation. The purpose of which was to provide a roadmap for enterprise innovation and blueprints for desired enterprises — for both business and IT.

Riyad Bank says a successful implementation is one that manages to reduce IT complexity, create an adaptive environment and improve overall leverage of IT resources. It also ensures stable operations and network availability, while also helping the information system become a true tool of business navigation with better risk management and control. These, in turn, allow for IT cost effectiveness and improved utilisation of capital. All this requires educational sessions, as well as the developing of ownership and service level agreements (SLAs).

Systems were already in place within Riyad Bank to deal with areas such as financial, but IT initially proved a trickier asset to manage. Prior to implementation, Riyad Bank examined the experiences of other companies, selected the best practices and applied them. After three months of extensive analysis, solutions were purchased in 2004.

Once in place, the new technology did not require much time to grow accustomed to. The fact that it was fully automated rendered implementation relatively simple, dispelling any preconceived notions about IT asset management being a complex, drawn out process. “With the system being totally automated, there wasn’t much training required,” says AlOthman. “Once the system is started it is a simple process to sustain.”

Others are now beginning to follow suit— such as Jordanian telecommunications firm Fastlink, which recently switched from Microsoft’s Great Plains software to Oracle e-business suite 11i— as benefits are growing increasingly evident. “The benefits have been tremendous,” AlOthman elaborates. “We have found that applied solutions have helped with security, and keep us on track by identifying what batches are lagging behind. That has always been our intention.”

The identification of backlog is not the sole objective met by Riyad Bank’s application. Another upshot that has resulted is the creation of extra time to devote toward marketing. Other benefits include the improvement in uptime and better utilisation of IT resources. The financial institution’s senior executives understand this. This is paramount to the success of the implementation. Their backing and support, according to AlOthman, has been crucial in establishing success or failure.

The process has been costly, with figures indicating a return of investment (ROI) yet to fully materialise. There are already signs of savings, but AlOthman believes that cost is one thing, value another and the long-term future appears bright and rosy. “The benefits we foresee are mainly for the long run and outweigh the effects of the short run,” he maintains. “This should not be measured by just a figure of money, but by other aspects,” he ascertains. “If I have less complexity, I will have fewer resources, less management, fewer licences. These are the things we are looking for.”||**|||~|untitled1A.jpg|~||~|However, AlOthman concedes the new solution needs to be constantly reviewed in order to execute further enhancements. With so many different channels — call centers and internet banking for example — Riyad Bank acknowledges the customer will ultimately feel the benefits of an improved service. A second review is taking place at present, concerning itself with the scrutiny of new business trends coupled with new technology trends. Further analysis is expected to propel future implementation and migration plans.

Riyad Bank’s primary objective has been achieved: that of bridging IT and business faculties of the organisation. It was an initiative that was started by the top management in the summer of 2001. “The architecture we implemented is designed to be of a ‘do once and use many’ nature,” AlOthman elucidates. “That is the approach the business has bought into and it has been a great success from the start.” Even though a few gaps still need plugging, numerous key goals have been achieved, such as the mapping of all old systems with target architecture.

Its new system, although extensive, still involves multiple components. For instance, there are separate operators for databases, networks and operating systems. Now that the entire integration of availability of information to all departments, decision-making regarding how to consolidate and set strategies, has been greatly assisted. That alone presents a powerful argument for end users about the benefits of implementing asset management solutions.

Another enterprise to witness the benefits of implementing asset management solutions first hand is the Al Ghurair Group. The UAE-based company deployed Oracle’s e-business suite in May 2003 in order to improve its reporting and analysis, as well as to reduce administrative processes and consolidate operations. Implementation training took two to three months, but the organisation is now reaping the rewards, with ROI being attained within 18 months. There have also been great benefits of a more general nature, thanks to moving from a manual system to a lean, agile computerised system. “For us, the benefits have primarily been in better management and control of maintenance operations,” states Hatem Al Sibai, CIO of Al Ghurair Group.

The company consulted Oracle about the best possible application. Part of the solution covers enterprise asset management (EAM). However, Al Ghurair’s EAM implementation was a project within a project, which included the implementation of a broader Oracle package, dealing with multiple components. These ranged from cash management to supply chains to financials, in addition to IT. On such a grand scale operation, it is imperative to analyse all business requirements separately. IT asset management, after all, presents different challenges and issues to address than other modules. The company recognises this, and has separate departments dealing with various components.

As for the EAM, the system is starting to shine, resulting in greater equipment reliability and a reduction in breakdown time, which has been reduced by up to 40%. This, of course, translates directly into savings, but has also orchestrated another pivotal change in approach. There is now a great deal more time to deal with strategic maintenance, as the focus shifts from corrective maintenance to preventative maintenance. “The old way of waiting for a break down and then repairing it as soon as possible no longer applies,” he says.

Adopting the age-old medical proverb of ‘prevention is better than cure’ is a noteworthy approach when deploying asset management solutions. The Al Ghurair Group was quick to spot the merits of this philosophy and the potential dividends it could bring. “Preventing the need for corrective maintenance is simple and inexpensive,” reveals Al Sibai. “Corrective maintenance is costly and takes you offline and out of operations for a significantly longer period of time,” he adds, maintaining that the approach has resulted in significant savings. The emphasis on reliability within the company ethos has manifested itself in other practices. For instance, Al Ghurair’s migration of all business applications from a Windows platform to a Linux platform in May 2003. Once again, extra dependability helped ROI.

This preventative consequence of implementing asset management solutions has, all the same, enabled the company co-ordinate and develop proper maintenance programs with both machines suppliers and line suppliers. The offshoot is improved management of operations, as staff is continuously advised about what needs to be done where and when. This has also resulted in the extending of the lifecycles of assets. Well-maintained assets outlast those that are not, which inevitably incur significantly higher operational costs. In this regard, implementation has been a resounding success, as Al Sibai points out. “Simply put: well-maintained assets are safer to operate and present fewer risks.”

Of course, there are no projects without their fair share of challenges. Al Sibai acknowledges that his company experienced the usual cases of negotiating the tricky learning curves employees have to undergo when switching from manual processes to automated ones. It is essential therefore that training is extensive and the Al Ghurair Group has internal IT support. The company says training is a continuous process aimed at understanding operational difficulties and presenting solutions. Moreover, the company explores every new Oracle application and its features in order to build on the success it has already enjoyed.||**|||~|Tampi1A.jpg|~|Demand for asset management has increased because enterprises are tracking assets and maintaining them, says Oceanic Technologies’ Satish Tampi|~|Ali Eltahtawi, spokesperson for Oracle Middle East, understands why companies like the Al Ghurair Group approach his organisation. Over the years, Oracle has built up a healthy understanding of the local market and established a reputation as being leaders in the asset management solutions field. Demand in the Middle East has been increasing, and Eltahtawi believes that this trend looks set to continue. “It’s a growing business, especially in small-to-medium-sized businesses [SMB],” he says. “We are looking to expand our customer base to cope with demand. They know they are getting excellent service.”

Satish Tampi, manager at Oceanic Technologies, which is a regional reseller for global asset management solutions company HardCat, holds an equally positive outlook. Like Eltahtawi, Tampi has also witnessed growing demands from SMBs. “We are well known across the world and we receive high ratings. Businesses are eager to come to us,” he explains. “Demand has increased because more and more people are keen on tracking assets and maintaining them. There is a lot of interest because it saves money.”

Tampi removes any fears proposing businesses may have about being sold a solution that does not meet their specific needs. He emphasises that HardCat—like all flourishing asset managemenet solutions companies —treats clients individually. The first stage is to find out the specific requirements before suggesting a configuration. Pending discussions on issues such as budget, Oceanic Technologies then goes ahead with a planned scheduled implementation. “The set up of HardCat is such that the configuration is based 100% towards the client’s requirements,” he explains. “So it is a question of getting down to the last detail and giving them an asset register that measures what they want.”

Part of the implementation process includes rigorous training courses; depending on which application the client has bought. Training is conducted inhouse and on a hands-on basis. HardCat can claim Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD) and Abu Dhabi Gas Liquefaction Company (ADGAS) among its clients.

However, some enterprises are reticent about embarking on wide scale asset management reform, preferring instead to do as much as possible inhouse and without the involvement of outside companies. One such company is the Al Yousuf Group, one of the leading distributors of automobiles and automobile related parts and services in the Middle East. Its business is broad, also covering IT, real estate, electronic and home appliances as well as distribution.

The Al Yousuf conglomerate chose to migrate its data centre to a solution provided by Sun Microsystems in March 2004. This was to increase IT capacity and help reduce operating costs in preparation for future expansion initiatives. In order to maintain diversified business interests in different sectors, Al Yousuf from then on developed the asset management solution internally, as CIO Mousallam Chatty explains. “What we purchased was an infrastructure to which we could migrate all our own applications,” he says. “We migrated to Sun and replaced our network capacity requirements [NCR].”

However, Chatty believes that extensive knowledge is required from within an organisation in order to ensure that asset management solutions are fully utilised. Chatty, has been heading the company’s IT division since 1991, and putting into practice the company vision of having an IT centre to provide all necessary information about the business. Possessing an impressive and varied IT background, coupled with an in-depth knowledge of operating systems, Chatty trains his own staff. “I have two managers: one for development, the other for operations,” he reveals. “They know how to handle and run everything.”

Outsiders provide only the absolutely necessary expertise in specific areas, such as developing and using certain tools. Chatty acknowledges that this involves a great deal of graft among company employees to implement and maintain, as well as placing them in the minority category, not just regionally, but globally too. It is, according to him, nevertheless an ultimately rewarding practice. “It is certainly cheaper,” he points out. “With excellent vision and confidence, you are able to utilise your own asset management solution, make decisions and realise yields without outside intervention.”

That is not to say that all work has been complete at Al Yousuf. It is a continuous process, with Chatty himself claiming that 30 hours are often needed in a day to complete tasks. Projects in the pipeline include improvements in the application interface. Yet, when it comes to obtaining highest possible performance for lowest possible cost, Chatty insists that the ‘do-it-yourself’ approach is ideal for his organisation. Providing the know-how exists internally. This approach represents an effective means for reducing downtime, saving costs and ensuring real performance from assets. “We find that we can tailor solutions ourselves to our own unique processes,” he adds.

For more involved end users however, one issue that is often overlooked when implementing asset management solutions is that of security. HardCat allays fears by emphasising that there is no internet connectivity on any of its solutions. “There’s no external interface,” assures Satish Tampi. “It works in a cocoon environment.”
||**|||~|Nick-Harmer1A.jpg|~|It is very easy for e-mails stored on files to be lost or corrupted, says KVS’ Nick Harmer|~|Decru is one US-based company recently established in the Middle East, which specialises in developing security solutions to address a range of business needs for enterprises and governments. Steven Brown, the regional manager for the Middle East and Africa at Decru, believes that end users can avoid potential security pitfalls with a degree of foresight, citing the recent example of Bank of America losing valuable data.

“Every time you are deploying a new solution you don’t always understand the risks,” he warns, advising companies to embark on encryption processes. These, he insists, do not defeat the whole purpose of implementing asset management solutions by adding complexity or slowing the process down.

One asset management solutions company that takes the issue of security rather seriously is KVS, a business division of Veritas. KVS was founded in 1999 to cater for clients who value information, specifically the larger enterprises. Currently pushing its way into the Middle Eastern market, KVS see itself as a delivery vehicle of software-based archiving solutions for completing information lifecycle management of content generated in e-mail, file systems and various collaborative applications.

Nick Harmer, who is at the forefront of the company’s foray into the region, understands the fears end users may have. “It is very easy for e-mails stored on files to be lost or corrupted,” he admits. “One of our main businesses is helping people store e-mail, look after and protect them,” he says.

Established by engineers who had been creating e-mail management solutions before e-mail became mainstream, KVS has an insight into the security problems end users experience. Based on the guiding principles of storing, managing and discovering, the solutions company is now offering courses locally. It offers a family of products, which are modular in nature, for companies to manage e-mail, files on their system, documents on shared point systems and instant messaging. In addition to software, KVS offers design and implementation consultancy as well as ongoing technical support.

Though relatively new to the Middle East region, KVS is witnessing positive signs from end users. Demand for solutions is high. The vendor has discovered that openness and candour is critical on the part of the end users when they approach companies for asset management solutions. Harmer is encouraged by the response he has found so far. “I am refreshed by how willing people are to talk about their problems,” he expresses. “I have found people to be very open and very communicative, which makes it very straight-forward to do business.”

It is clear that numerous factors contribute to the successful implementation of asset management solutions. Preparatory work needs to be far-reaching, with the specific objectives that need addressing outlined in detail. Asset management solutions providers appreciate end users who are forthright, and can provide consulting and training. This in turn needs to be continued at the end user level, for asset management is an ongoing process. Though expensive and initially time consuming, the long term benefits, both in terms of costs and greater utilisation of benefits, are enormous.

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