Forging for the future

Qasco's IT department has been working hard for the past two years on several new implementations. ACN talks to Malek Hamdieh about some of the recent developments.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  March 12, 2006

|~|hamdieh200.jpg|~|Hamdieh: We were surprised at how hard it was to find an appropriate integrator for the enterprise asset management.|~|The Qatar Steel Company (Qasco) has some grand ambitions; it plans to expand to four times its size within the next seven years, taking on hundreds of staff and expanding its facilities dramatically. On the IT side, the heart of this expansion plan lay with Oracle's E-Business Suite ERP system, implemented in 2003.

Ayman Abouseif, Oracle's managing director for the Gulf States says, "Oracle delivers seamless integration between all of Qasco's business functions - a critical objective in achieving visibility into the company's business performance. The technology is now in place to support Qasco's ambitious plans, supported by Oracle and its systems integrator partner, Global Technology Services."

Since then Qasco's IT department has deployed an internal enterprise portal solution, and is on the verge of rolling out an e-procurement portal for its suppliers. Before bringing in the latter system, though, Malek Hamdieh, IT manager for the steel producer, decided to update the E-Business Suite to the latest version to ensure the system was adequately secured.

"We've never had an attack, or any problems with security, so it was more of a precaution than anything," says Hamdieh. "The biggest security issue we have in reality is humans, not systems. As for the steel, I don't think we've got any particular problems there, anyway - you'd need to be a superman to lift it."

Along with Hamdieh's levity comes an awareness of the importance of security to Qasco, and a comprehensive approach to dealing with the issues that arise. The firm's IT infrastructure boasts a two-tier security solution, two levels of anti-virus and anti-spam protection, and point solutions in various vulnerable areas throughout the network. The 'soft' side of security has not been neglected, with a programme to educate the users of Qasco's 600 PCs on the importance of password security.

Hamdieh and his team have spent the last few months upgrading its Oracle ERP system to the latest 10.5.11 release, in order to ensure no one will be able to access sensitive data about suppliers, such as user names and passwords, by planting rogue cookies. This is the latest update to the system, which Hamdieh says was the biggest single overhaul of the core systems at the steel maker when it was implemented in 2003.

"It was a major project for us; it took around 13 months to complete, a little over the planned time, and involved a lot of challenges," says the Qasco IT manager. "The biggest single challenge was the huge data migration which we needed to do for the new system. We underestimated some of the aspects of this, such as the extent to which we would need to cleanse the data, and that caused some issues."

The organisation also had major change management challenges when implementing the system. Hamdieh says that the firm had to put a number of policies in place in order to deal with these issues effectively, especially as far as resolving the conflicts between existing procedures and systems and the new ERP solution.||**|||~|steelworks200.jpg|~|A steel works. Qasco plans to grow fourfold over the next seven years.|~|"The senior management took the decision that the ERP was a tier-one system, and that we should bring in best practices along with the IT solutions," he says. "And as we had taken a decision not to customise the solution, when there was a conflict between our legacy systems and processes, and the Oracle system we should change our processes."

Before the implementation itself Qasco had other challenges, which had a much bigger impact than any of the technical issues Hamdieh and his team faced. In 2003, elements of E-Business Suite were still relatively new in the region, and Hamdieh says he struggled to find a suitable consultant for the project.

"We knew that the enterprise asset management component was a new product, but we were surprised at how hard it was to find an appropriate integrator, as we had succeeded for all the other elements of the E-Business Suite," he says. "We knew of implementations around the world, and we were willing to bring in someone from overseas, but the implementer - Dubai-based GTS [Global Technology Services] - did not give us that much flexibility. In the end, though, we did manage to settle on an appropriate consultant."

The latitude given to the system shows the importance placed on it by the management and IT staff at the company. With Qasco's ambitious expansion plans, which include the construction of new facilities, both upstream and downstream, this is perhaps unsurprising. The policy of no customisation also removes many of the headaches that can plague major IT implementations in the longer term, as major upgrades and modifications have to work around customised elements.

The E-Business Suite implementation also required Qasco to revamp their physical IT infrastructure; along with new HP servers the steel maker replaced its existing dial-up-based network with a new Gigabit solution.

The soon-to-be-implemented external portal will mirror the internal enterprise portal Qasco has had for 12 months now. Surprisingly, Hamdieh says it is this relatively less complex implementation which has had the biggest impact on the organisation, rather than the much larger and more established ERP solution.

"The portal has allowed us to share best practice throughout the company, and that has been a dramatic development," says Hamdieh. "The main benefit has been to move information out of someone's desk and into the organisation as a whole, and to have one source for all of our information and policies."

As to how effective these solutions have been, Hamdieh is able to say with some certainty that the new systems have had an impact. Qasco has reduced the time it takes to perform its financial closing operations by around 70%; it has reduced its inventory costs by more than 25%; the time for order delivery and processing of shipping transactions has also been reduced.

"Overall we are satisfied with how the new systems have performed," says Hamdieh. "Looking back at the implementation, certainly of the ERP, I think there are things I would have done differently. There are also elements of the package, which we haven't taken full advantage of as yet. So this may well be an area we will look at for the future."||**||

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