The dream factory

As manufacturing in the Middle East expands, the industry looks to IT vendors to provide integrated software that can give the cutting edge in a competitive market. Brid-Aine Conway reports.

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By  Brid-Aine Conway Published  August 13, 2007

With work continuing on industrial cities in both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, it's clear that manufacturing is a growing industry in the Middle East. Many companies take a second look at their business plan when industry growth brings competition and manufacturing is no exception. The industry is now taking a new look at how technology can benefit their businesses and give them the advantage they need.

Traditionally, IT for the manufacturing industry has been segregated, one package for the back office, and maybe one for the shop floor, which has led to difficulties.

"Many manufacturing companies have struggled by coming up with quick fix solutions in the past, by developing something in house for example. It might appear that you can actually build something that's totally tailored to your needs but then you find out that, in reality, you're dependent on a few programmers who don't really have a bigger vision of what you as a company are doing right now, "says Marc Van der Ven, managing director of Sage Accpac Middle East.

Now that the industry is embracing IT, they are finding that there are many more vendors providing integrated solutions than before. These solutions are taking components like supply chain management (SCM), CRM and business intelligence, tailoring them to manufacturing, with industry-specific add-ons, and presenting integrated business software to manage manufacturing enterprises.

Sage recently launched the Sage X3 Enterprise package, aimed at the manufacturing industry, which is intended to "support the specific needs of most process manufacturers" and also features a discrete manufacturing version for hard goods and consumer goods manufacturers. Van der Ven believes that manufacturing IT solutions can only be provided as an integrated service built with the segment in mind and supported by people with a business or manufacturing background.

"IT is actually the least important: in reality the software component itself is not important, it should work by itself and it doesn't require a lot of skills to make the software work as a software. But the point is how you configure it - that is entirely dependent on the manufacturing requirement. So what you really need is manufacturing skills and understanding of the business process, and how to configure the software to do that," he says. "There's a lot of software in the market that comes with lots of bells and whistles but is not designed from the ground up for the manufacturing environment, so the first thing you need to look at is the background of the vendor, the kind of history it has with manufacturing solutions, and its focus with that specific product," he adds.

Manjeet Singh, managing director of Columbus IT Middle East, agrees that an IT vendor for manufacturing needs to have experience in the industry, but feels Columbus has a different approach to its software. The Copenhagen-listed company partners with a number of vendors, including Sage Accpac and Microsoft.

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