Technology on tap

Privatisation is forcing public sector companies to rethink their IT environments as they make their operations leaner, more efficient and more profitable. Daniel Stanton speaks to the director of one of the biggest transformation projects in the region.

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By  Daniel Stanton Published  December 5, 2006

|~|TR004299-200.jpg|~|Sea power: SWCC provides around one-fifth of the world’s capacity for desalinated water through its 30 plants in Saudi Arabia.|~|As a major industrial operation, the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) has huge demands on IT, but it has had to further improve its IT operations since the decision was made to privatise the company.

SWCC is the largest desalination operation in the world and supplies one-fifth of the world's capacity for desalinated water. The company has 30 plants in Saudi Arabia and is currently government-owned and operated, although its status is set to change in the next two years.

As part of the privatisation process, SWCC will have to look at ways of improving internal efficiency and streamlining processes, and its IT is under particular scrutiny. The company is reviewing all of its IT processes as part of its E-Transformation programme (e-TP).

"The electronic transformation programme is transferring all the processes of SWCC to automation," says Abdullah AlKhedher, E-Transformation programme director at SWCC.

"The corporation has followed a strategic plan aiming at developing people, systems and reconstructing procedures in accordance with the industry's international methods and best practices across the organisational levels, including administrative, financial, technical and human resources, for the purpose of achieving automated links and integration between its working sectors of 30 plants located throughout the Kingdom, cost to cost," says AlKheder. "Part of it is an ERP issue.

“We are implementing Oracle financials, supply chain, and HR.

“For the asset management we have another package, an application called Infor EAM, which is interfaced with Oracle.

"The other thing is another software to automate the operation and maintenance, and we have another package for content management. So it's a complete transformation of the processes of SWCC. We have an ambitious plan that by the end of 2007 we have to complete all those transformations for at least phase two of the programme. Privatisation is most likely going to be at the beginning of 2008, so prior to that we have to do all the automation.

“It's a very, very vast scale programme." The programme of change started just over two years ago and is now in phase two. "We have applied the supply chain, the finance, and asset management in some of the plants," says Al Khadher.
Key to the new approach has been the decision to centralise the applications and data, which has had an immediate impact in improving efficiency. "It's a huge benefit," he says. "It's a single data repository, so it's a single point of truth. Instead of having a database here and there, we have one solution.

“We have a data centre in our headquarters in Riyadh which everybody is accessing - all of the applications are web-enabled.”

AlKheder adds: "The other thing is we use global processes, so all plants talk the same language. Before, we had a system for Jubail plant, a system for another plant, a system for another plant. Now it's one system and when everybody talks, they talk the same language.
||**|||~||~||~|“Another thing is that if you want to connect with other companies, whether they are local or international, this is the application that will let you connect with the other parts of the world, while before they worked independently."

Now the separate plants will no longer develop their own programmes but will all use the central systems.
A production information system (PIS) is operated in all plants and the main office in Riyadh is used as a database centre linking all plants with the main office.

The plants record all of their data on a daily basis through the enterprise's network.

AlKheder adds: "We improved the quality, we improved the processes, we improved the cost."

Return on investment is likely to come from savings in time spent updating and developing systems, and the expense of sending people to locations across the country to carry out work that can now be done centrally. In addition, quality levels should also be improved now that every plant is working on the same systems and following the same procedures.

While the benefits are now being seen, the project inevitably met resistance from some parts of the workforce. "It was very difficult," says Al Khedher.

"When we started the implementation, people rejected the system, they didn't want it because it doesn't work like the system they were working with before, but now after a few months of implementation they are realising the benefit."
Planning ahead and offering sufficient training on the new systems have also been vital to the implementation. "We have a change management programme and we have a PMO (project management office) programme across the whole operation," says Al Khedher.

"It's actually a very ambitious plan because we have 10,000 employees. We have to do complete training, a complete change management programme, and education. It's huge," he adds.

He is confident that SWCC will operate an improved, more efficient IT environment ahead of its privatisation that will enable it to function as a commercial entity.

The corporation has finalised a comprehensive strategy that will study and determine the systems and operations to be developed, the technical requirements, the methods to be used in the project, and the budget required.

"The project is considered one of the biggest and most important projects for overall development of all operations and administrative, financial and technical systems in the corporation," says AlKheder. "It is also considered the biggest at the government sector level."

When the changeover happens in the next couple of years, the company promises to be lean, well-managed and transparent in its business processes - another step towards Saudi Arabia's vision of modern organisations that use IT to deliver world class services.

The systems used in the project are chosen to be scalable and flexible so that the corporation has the ability to include the latest techniques and improvements as they become available in the future. The corporation now has a unified view of events, and a project that ensures IT is aligned with its strategic objectives.

SWCC's E-Transformation could well set the standard for large, geographically-dispersed companies across the Middle East.
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