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AAB, Qatar's exclusive Toyota and Lexus distributor, needed to deploy an ERP system to deal with its high growth - but skills shortages proved to be a hump in the road to IT success. ACN reports.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  January 26, 2008

Since joining Abdullah Abdulghani and Bros (AAB), the exclusive distributor for Toyota and Lexus cars in Qatar, in 2001, information technology manager Nagarajan Thangaradhna's main challenge has been dealing with the enormous growth - both of the country, and of the company itself.

"There's huge growth in Qatar at the moment, and we have to cope with the pressure of that, in terms of serving our customers; we're doing very well," says Nagarajan.

I need to draw a line at some stage, between the security of the new system, and providing the facilities.

This dramatic growth meant AAB began to feel the pressure on its IT systems, and prompted the implementation of an ERP system. Nagarajan and his team first started looking for an appropriate system back in 2003 - the company settled on Oracle's E-Business Suite in 2004.

"The impetus for the new ERP system came jointly from top management and the IT department. But of course individual departments had a lot of requests for a change - although many were not sure that a change would help. We investigated their requirements, and decided a new system was needed - the country was growing, the company was growing, and at some stage we would need an ERP," Nagarajan explains.

"There was no point in delaying things - it was going to be very difficult to manage business growth in a huge environment without an ERP. Previously we were using an automobile-industry specific system - it was a very challenging task for me to move from a character-based software, which was not designed as an ERP," he adds.

Nagarajan spent some time analysing the various ERP systems on the market, giving detailed scores to the features of each one, then working out what was essential to AAB's business. The final choice came down to Oracle and SAP, with the US company pulling ahead.

"The architecture of the Oracle product - including financials, HR and so on - was very good, and is supposed to be one of the best products in the world. What really impressed me was the best practices and the controls in the system - the way the data flows from end to end, with proper controls. There's no way it would allow you to do something you're not supposed to do," Nagarajan says.

"The business snapshots were also decisive - what top management wants is a snapshot of the business, and as IT head, I'm supposed to give the snapshot at any point in time. This was possible with Oracle - with one click, my bosses would know what's happening in different areas of the company, where we are strong, where we are weak."

AAB chose integrator Hyperlink as its partner for the project, and started the deployment in 2005. But in the same year the project ran into difficulties, due to a shortage of skilled IT staff available to work on the implementation.

The project team turned to Oracle itself, which was able to offer consulting services, enabling the AAB team to complete the implementation. Nagarajan explains that labour shortages have been the single biggest issue for him recently.

"If you look at the last few years in the region, the IT manpower issue is very challenging, when managing the IT environment. I always say, I can have disaster recovery for my hardware and software - but not for humanware. Maintaining staff in IT is a major challenge for IT managers at the moment," he says.

"We always needed a backup for every consultant - new staff would have to come on to site, and get up to speed. There would always be a delay. This is never-ending - it's still continuing. It's a huge task, and managing the IT staff is going to be the biggest challenge in the next few years," adds Nagarajan.

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