Taking stock

Supermarket chain Union Co-operative Society's IT team is involved in a continuous drive to ensure that the right use of information technology improves operational efficiency and adds to the company's bottom line.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  November 1, 2007

It would be no exaggeration to say that the supermarket and retail sector in the UAE is a highly competitive market segment. With many well-known chains fighting over the lucrative market, the slightest change to add to a firm's efficiency and staff productivity can go a long way in adding to the bottom line.

Union Co-operative Society (UCS) is well aware of this fact. Formed in 1984 to offer goods at a fair price by providing a consistent link from the producer to the end-consumer, the Society operates seven supermarkets in the UAE, with plans to add two more soon. The firm strives to provide the residents of the country with the best in goods at the most competitive price scales. The board of directors of UCS, as well as the management team, are continuously involved in efforts to improve operations and processes within the company to move UCS up the retail ladder.

Mohamed Al-Wahedi, the IT manager of UCS since 2006, is acutely aware of the crucial role that IT can play in establishing and maintaining the retail stores at the top of the retail market in the UAE and is constantly involved in devising strategies to that end.

"IT is a critical function for UCS and remains one of the major focus areas for the company's board of management as well," he says.

The firm has an effective infrastructure setup across three layers - the access element, the networking and security element and then the server farm or the datacentre. According to him, several steps have been taken over the last two years to not only adopt standards and processes within the organisation's IT initiatives but also to bring about tighter integration between the business and operational side and the IT team.

"There has been a major revamping of IT since last year, where we began to look at putting in place a proper IT strategy. At first, we examined if there was a process for strategy formulation. From there we moved into examining IT governance and management. We started introducing the concept of COBIT for IT governance and ITIL in service management as well as BS7799 and now ISO270001 for security. These three frameworks have been approved by the board of directors and the senior management to be the governing standards for IT," says Al-Wahedi.

"We have also recently put in place the balanced score card pattern, divided objectives across departments and identified the main initiatives for 2007, 2008 and 2009. We have also put in place the main organisational KPIs. We now talk of cascading the balanced scorecard down to the department level. We are already doing monthly evaluation of employees which are linked to individual balanced scorecards, how far is their project related involvement, their link to the units, its objectives, the IT objectives and, finally, UCS objectives," adds Al-Wahedi.

The enterprise has also been working hard to establish a closer inter-connect between the business divisions and the IT team's work. To this end UCS has formed the Business Solution Support Unit.

"This unit is led by a guy with a good background in business and they do the liasing between IT and business units. Among the challenges we face is to meet the exact expectations of the business units. IT is evaluated on solid facts and the unit helps us translate business needs to technology. Initially it was a difficult process - the act of going to each department, explaining that IT is there to help them in their objectives and trying to ascertain accurate expecations and feedback," says Al-Wahedi.

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