Trading standards

Having changed the way free trade zones in the UAE function, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) Free Trade Zone Authority (FTZA) has now invested in a multi-tenant IP telephony system to boost its popularity with investors.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  September 22, 2005

|~|Al-Murshedi,-Maryam-BODY.jpg|~|Al Murshedi: We worked for a long time to decide on the solution that would best serve our needs and deliver the most business benefits. We have been planning and designing this project for a year and a half.|~|Since opening for business in May 2000, the RAK FTZA has achieved all objectives and exceeded targets of its chairman, HH Sheikh Faisal Bin Saqr Al Qassimi, Ruler of RAK and member of the Supreme Council. The authority now boasts an investor database of over 400 companies from 28 different countries, and expects the expansion plans for its three parks will bring even more attention from businesses globally. “The development plans for each of our three parks will add to our status as a progressive and forward-thinking free trade zone,” says Oussama El Omari, director general of the FTZA. “We offer a unique added-value service to investors as the only free zone to offer promotion centres in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.” As the latest free trade zone in the UAE, RAK FTZA has studied the successes of similar projects in the Middle East region and worldwide to establish its own best practices and improve its techniques and services. The authority has also paid close attention to the experiences of its existing investor base to learn what would be needed to provide a higher level of customer care. “RAK FTZA is in its fifth year now, and I believe we know more about our customers now. We have a better understanding of their wants and needs,” he adds. “Because we have been successful in meeting these requirements so far, we are getting demand for more offices and warehouses. Our success is simply because we are [providing] value for money to our clients.” By segregating business activities according to function, operational requirements and the needs of the surrounding community, RAK FTZA’s business, industrial and technology parks are tailored to present advantages to investors. The parks offer 100% foreign ownership, full capital and profit repatriation and an entirely tax-free environment for customers. It is also hoped that transparent laws and regulations, a quick and simple application procedure and convenient access to a solid infrastructure and vital amenities will tempt potential investors to RAK. The World Trade and Business Innovation Centre situated in the business park comprises the first step towards the creation of the RAK Free Trade Zone City, providing a business destination and base for entrepreneurs and established companies involved in the service sector, industrial manufacturing or general trading. “My vision is becoming a reality and soon even more businesses will be able to take full advantage of the opportunities, benefits, facilities and lifestyle we offer at RAK FTZA,” says HH Sheikh Faisal Bin Saqr Al Qassimi. “Our developments are designed to provide our investors with all the facilities they need to succeed in their business activity.” The FTZA recognises that state-of-the-art communications is one such business-enabling facility, and has therefore chosen to deploy a Cisco IP telephony solution in order to gain the benefits of a converged network, such as increased productivity, greater business flexibility and reduced operational costs, passing these on, in turn, to its customers. Cisco was selected to deliver the solution as it offered the FTZA a comprehensive suite of IP-based hardware and software solutions that could scale to meet its needs as the organisation’s expansion progresses. “Cisco offered us the latest in IP technology. The system is capable of providing an endless list of services. The moment you access it there is a wealth of information at your fingertips,” says HH Sheikh Faisal Bin Saqr Al Qassimi. “It was also possible to integrate the suite with our existing systems to help us migrate to full IP communications and protect some of our existing technology investments.” ||**|||~|El-Omari,-Oussama-BODY.jpg|~|El-Omari: The development plans for each of the three parks will add to our status as a progressive and forward-thinking free trade zone.|~|A Gigabit network infrastructure was deployed to provide an intelligent foundation that could facilitate consolidation by supporting distinct application and server environments on the same physical infrastructure, and by maintaining their virtual separation for security and availability purposes. This infrastructure includes public switched telephone network gateways, analogue phone support and digital signal processor farms. The solutions can support multiple client types such as hardware and software phones and video devices, as well as providing options for integrating voice mail and directory systems. “The IP technology transmits voice communications over the network using open-standards-based IP. It uses the single network infrastructure to transmit data, voice and video traffic at high speeds,” explains assistant director, Maryam Al Murshedi, who managed the implementation. “We worked for a long time with Cisco Systems to decide on the solution that would best serve our needs and deliver the most business benefits. We have been planning and designing this project for a year and a half,” she adds. The project, which finally went live in February 2005, saw the deployment of IP phones that combine the functions of a traditional telephone with the Ethernet connection, offering customisations such as access to employee extension numbers and web-based content. A software-based call-processing component of the IP solution, the Cisco CallManager, runs on the latest generation of HP servers and is part of the architecture for voice, video and integrated data implemented at the FTZA. Additional data, voice and video services such as unified messaging, multimedia conferencing, collaborative contact centres and interactive multimedia response systems interact with the IP telephony solution through the CallManager’s open telephony application programming interface. “In short, the solution gives customers the choice to interact with the contact centre via phone, web, VoIP, text chat or e-mail,” surmises Al Murshedi. “It provides a centralised management control over customer contacts, allowing us to implement a single set of business rules that can uniformly address our customers’ needs regardless of the contact channel or the location of resources.” Through a combination of multi-channel contact management, intelligent routing and network-to-desktop computer telephony integration, the Cisco solution automatically segments customers, monitors resource availability and then delivers each contact to the most appropriate resource anywhere in the enterprise. The system knows which resources are available to meet the customer's needs based on real-time conditions such as agent skills and availability, interactive voice response status and queue lengths, which are continuously gathered from various contact centre components. “The application allows us to integrate traditional voice applications with the new internet capabilities such as real-time chat, web collaboration, and e-mail. The system is designed to be customer friendly and offers benefits in a practical way. Things such as licence applications are now far quicker because we can use multiple channels of communication simultaneously. This in turn is important for our competitiveness,” Al Murshedi states.||**|||~||~||~|This deployment, the first stage in a five-year, US$10 million drive to improve the entire technology infrastructure at RAK FTZA, was carried out by a team of 25, working in close collaboration not only with Cisco Systems but also with experts from HP. As well as delivering the servers, HP provided its customers with high-speed internet access and a host of new applications such as unified messaging and directory services. HP’s services helped the authority to reduce the expense involved in operating separate data and voice networks, bringing down the cost of voice communication as the vendor saw the project through from its inception, planning and designing to the implementation. “The first thing HP brought to the project was its experience and knowledge,” says El Omari. “There are not many projects of this scale carried out in this region, and I think HP were surprised at first that we wanted to undertake something so ambitious, but they soon realised we were keen and committed,” he adds. HP’s skill and experience in managing multi-tenant IP telephony projects resulted in a relatively problem-free deployment. The minor technological difficulties that occurred in the process were easily dealt with by the team, and formed a vital part of the in house IT department’s learning curve. “In fact it went very smoothly. Of course there were a few issues that needed to be addressed as we went along, but with help from both HP and Cisco we were able to take them in our stride and find solutions,” says Al Murshedi. “This taught us. The vendors transferred their knowledge so that now we have an in house team that can not only manage this solution, but will be able to handle future projects itself. For many of the team, this was the first time they had worked on a project of this scale, but now we are all confident we can do it again in the future.” With the new communications system in place, RAK FTZA is now in a position to assess the extent of the benefits it has brought to the authority and its investors. By linking its business centres in Dubai and Abu Dhabi with IP telephony, the authority has taken a fundamental step towards making the organisation as attractive and affordable as possible to investors and sustaining its reputation as the most economical free zone licence in the UAE, making its customer services available and convenient to access, whether from home or abroad. As a result, El Omari is confident that a return-on-investment (ROI) is imminent. HH Sheikh Faisal Bin Saqr Al Qassimi is adamant this progress should not stop here, however, especially as the organisation still has around US$8 million in its dedicated IT coffers. “We have given our customers true mobility, but we will never rest on our laurels. We know that the clientele will always want more services and the more we can offer, the more the businessmen will use.” As the FTZA expands the physical infrastructure of buildings, it plans to simultaneously build on its technology infrastructure, meeting the needs of its growing community. Projects for the future are still under discussion as the authority seeks the best ways in which to leverage its new investment to the full, but HH Sheikh Faisal Bin Saqr Al Qassimi says the free zone’s developments will soon span the entire UAE: “We are more than happy with our achievements so far and realise that we cannot do everything all in one step, but we will continue to strive to achieve our objective of establishing RAK as the most efficient free trade zone in the world.”||**||

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